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Family of hospitalized Pakistani exchange student trying to prevent his return

Hospital Deportations_Cham640.jpg

This 2014 photo provided by Shahraiz Bajwa taken at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, Minn. shows Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa, of Pakistan, who has been comatose since being injured in a November crash while spending a semester in an exchange program at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. His family is trying to prevent the hospital from sending him back to his home country. A hospital spokeswoman said Bajwa won’t be able to stay in the country legally after his student visa expires Feb. 28. (AP Photo/Courtesy Shahraiz Bajwa)

The family of an exchange student from Pakistan who has been comatose since a November crash is trying to prevent a Minnesota hospital from sending him back to his home country.

Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa, 20, was spending a semester in an exchange program at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. On Nov. 13, he and his friends were driving back there from Minneapolis when their car struck a deer, his brother, Shahraiz Bajwa, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Shahzaib Bajwa suffered severe facial fractures but was talking when he arrived at a hospital in Cloquet. He choked on blood there and went into cardiac arrest, but was resuscitated and transferred to Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth, his brother said.

The anthropology and sociology major suffered brain damage from the heart attack and remains comatose. Though he can open his eyes, squeeze his mother's hand, shrug his shoulders and has some movement in his legs, doctors have told the family it'll take a couple more years to find out how much more the 20-year-old will recover, Shahraiz Bajwa said.

A hospital spokeswoman said Shahzaib Bajwa won't be able to stay in the country legally after his student visa expires Feb. 28. Essentia has pressured the Bajwa family to sign consent forms to return the man to Pakistan, a flight that would take 24 hours, Shahraiz Bajwa said.

A hospital spokeswoman said Bajwa won't be able to stay in the country legally after his student visa expires Feb. 28.

"If we take him back to Pakistan this is certainly pushing him toward death," Shahraiz Bajwa said. "We don't want him to die in a miserable condition in a third-world country. It's better if he stays here."

It's not unusual for U.S. hospitals seeking to curb high costs to effectively deport foreign citizens back home, even when they're comatose, an Associated Press review found last year. Shahraiz Bajwa said the hospital bill has reached about $350,000.

Hospitals typically pay for the flights for these "medical repatriations," often without consulting any courts or federal agencies, the AP's review found.

Essentia spokeswoman Maureen Talarico said the hospital is making arrangements with the State Department to transport 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," she said in an email.

Shahzaib Bajwa's health insurance policy through his exchange program has a cap of $100,000, and his brother said Essentia has chosen to absorb the costs and not tap that policy so the money would be available for his care in Pakistan.

The family's immigration attorney, Saiko McIvor, said they're exploring their legal options for finding a way for the man to stay.

"It's a really, really sad situation," McIvor said. She said the family, from Faisalabad in Punjab province, is not wealthy, so they'd have trouble paying for his care in Pakistan.

Shahraiz Bajwa said his brother's policy would cover only about three months of care back home.

"We are under huge and immense pressure," he said. "The window of time is very small."

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