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Uninsured college student in Cuban hospital after car wreck brought home to Florida

Barbara “Barbie” Jimenez never expected to return from her summer trip to Cuba in this manner: aboard a Learjet, with U.S. congressional members, press conferences and the attention of the U.S. media.

The 22-year-old University of South Florida senior has no health insurance and after a horrific crash sent her to the hospital, her family had trouble finding a medical transport company that would return her to the U.S.

But now Jet ICU, a Tampa Bay-based air ambulance company, has stepped up and agreed to bring her back. At no cost.

“My family’s very fortunate that [Jet ICU founders] Mike and Bill Honeycut decided to do this,” Barbie’s sister, Caridad Jimenez , told Fox News Latino. “God has been on our side from the beginning.”

U.S. Congressman David W. Jolly (R-Fla.) pointed out to FNL that the effort to bring her home involved “many different stakeholders in the community coming together and contributing.” Tampa General Hospital also agreed to care for her despite the lack of health insurance.

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The hope is that Jimenez will be flown into Tampa Friday morning, but that timetable has not been finalized.

Jimenez traveled to the island nation, where her parents are from, with her boyfriend, John Fox, on Aug. 3. The very next day, the couple was in a taxi outside Havana with two members of the Jimenez clan when a Cuban Revolutionary Army truck plowed into a cab, killing the driver and hospitalizing the passengers.

Right away, family members in Cuba alerted Barbara’s parents, Jorge Jimenez and Daisy Falcon, who live in Immokalee, Florida, but they couldn’t get to the island for 10 days because of issues with passports and residence cards.

But sister Caridad, 29, got herself to the airport, where she tried to explain the situation to the person at the ticket counter. “It turned out she was the stepdaughter of the cab driver who was killed,” she told FNL.

Jimenez said she walked into the Cuba hospital and found her sister in a coma. She had a tracheotomy to help her breathe.

“It was difficult, to say the least,” Jimenez said about seeing her sister. “I tried to tell myself, ‘Don’t cry yet for someone who’s not dead.’ And I started trying to do what I could to make things better.”

Barbara remained in a coma for five days, during which time she got transferred to the hospital where her boyfriend was being treated.

There she began breathing on her own and then talking, Jimenez told FNL. Now she’s starting to walk with assistance. “She stumbled and almost fell the other day, but she’s making an amazing recovery,” the sister said.

Fox, the boyfriend, was airlifted to Florida two weeks ago by his employer, defense contractor Northrop Grumman’s facility in Melbourne. When his father inquired if the company could arrange for Jimenez’s transfer, they were told that it would cost $50,000.

Jorge Jimenez is a carpenter and electrician who also owns some property in Florida, but the price tag was exorbitant for the family’s means.

One potential roadblock that never came up was the Cuban government.

“We didn’t encounter any hurdles with their government,” Rep. Jolly told FNL.

The family’s troubles, of course, aren’t over. The Jimenez family doesn’t know yet what long-term effects, if any, the injuries will have on Barbie, who dreams of entering politics one day.

And her care at Tampa General will have to be paid for. They hope to cover a large part of the expense through a GoFundMe site set up by Barbie’s sisters at the USF chapter of the Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority.

Bill Vourvoulias (@bvourvoulias) is an editor at Fox News Latino.

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