Family of Pakistani student in coma raise funds for US treatment

LAHORE (AFP) - Family and friends of a Pakistani student left comatose following a traffic accident in the United States have raised thousands of dollars for his treatment and launched an online petition to extend his visa.

Mr Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa, 20, has been in a coma since last November when a deer struck a car carrying him and friends from the city of Minneapolis back to the University of Wisconsin-Superior where he was spending a semester abroad.

His brother Shahraiz, who has gone to the US to help, said the insurance company was pressing the family to sign off on returning the student to Pakistan once his visa runs out on Feb 28, threatening not to pay evacuation costs if the family refuses.

"My mother is not going to sign because that would be like killing her son with her own hand," the elder Bajwa told AFP on Wednesday. He added he feared his brother would not survive the 24-hour flight.

By Thursday afternoon, an online appeal (http: www.gofundme.com/6t9bq8) created to pay for the medical costs and apply for a visa extension had raised more than US$19,000 (S$24,053) of its US$100,000 target.

A change.org petition created by a friend that calls on the United States to extend his visa has so far gathered over 1,000 signatures, many of which came from Americans.

A spokeswoman from the foreign ministry said Pakistani officials had been in touch with the US State Department and were told that extending the visa was "not a problem" if the family could raise funds for his care.

"The matter has been taken up with the State Department. Essentially visa extension is not a problem," Ms Tasnim Aslam said, adding that his future course of care was now "up to the family".

The Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Centre in Duluth, Minnesota, has so far provided the student US$350,000 worth of treatment for free.

The insurance company has an upper limit of US$100,000 for the exchange programme, which it wants to use on his evacuation costs.

Mr Bajwa's uncle Ammanat Hussain Sahi told AFP that his nephew was a bright student whose father had died, leaving the family reliant on his pension and a small land holding they might need to sell to finance his treatment.

Mr Sohail H Naqvi, vice chancellor of the the Lahore University of Management Sciences which Mr Baiwa attended, added: "He is a student of LUMS under its national outreach program, which offers scholarships to bright students from the families with limited resources."

The student was well known on campus as a liberal activist who co-founded the university's first-ever Feminist Society, Nida Kirmani, one of his professors, told AFP.

"He was one of my best students, really committed to social justice," she said, adding that he was "outspoken in class in his support for feminism which is quite rare in Pakistan."

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