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Family, Duluth hospital at odds over fate of comatose exchange student

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Family members of an exchange student who suffered brain damage in a car accident hope to find a way to keep the comatose 20-year-old in the Duluth hospital where he's been treated since November.

The Associated Press reports Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center maintains Shahzaib Bajwa cannot stay in the U.S. legally after his student visa expires at the end of the month. The hospital reportedly wants family members to consent to returning Bajwa to his native Pakistan.

But the man's brother tells the AP such a move would amount to pushing Bajwa toward death. "We don't want him to die in a miserable condition in a third-world country. It's better if he stays here," Shahraiz Bajwa said of his brother.

An Essentia spokeswoman tells the wire service the hospital is working with the State Department on a plan to return Shahzaib Bajwa to Pakistan. "This is an unfortunate situation and his caregivers are working closely with Mr. Bajwa's family to ensure the smoothest transition possible," Maureen Talarico said in an email, the AP reports.

The Islamic Center of the Twin Ports, which has been tracking the family's plight, gives this account: Bajwa, a student at the University of Wisconsin Superior, was the passenger in a car that struck a deer on Interstate 35 near Carlton last November. He suffered facial injuries from the deer's antlers when the animal crashed through the windshield.

While being treated at a hospital, Bajwa went into cardiac arrest and the oxygen flow to his brain was interrupted for several minutes, the Center says. He's been in a coma since then.

According to the AP story Bajwa has some limited movement – he can open his eyes and squeeze his mother's hand – but doctors expect it will be another couple of years before it's clear how much movement he might regain.

The Islamic Center says insurance paid Bajwa's medical costs until mid-December and since then Essentia has covered the expense under its compassionate care policy. Bajwa's brother tells the AP the medical bill has reached $350,000.

The AP says it's common for hospitals under pressure to curb costs to use medical repatriations to essentially deport foreign citizens.

A UPI story last year looked at a report by two non-profit groups that documented hundreds of cases of undocumented immigrants who were repatriated by hospitals, some of whom died soon after. The groups predicted that deportations would grow amid funding constraints of the Affordable Care Act.

A recent fundraiser by the Islamic Center of the Twin Ports was aimed at offsetting the living expenses of Bajwa's mother and brother, who arrived in Duluth soon after the accident.

An immigration attorney working on behalf of the family tells the AP she's exploring legal options for finding a way for Bajwa to stay in the U.S.

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