Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa, a 21-year-old Pakistani exchange student in the US, has been in a coma since 13 November 2013 when a deer collided with the car he and his friends were riding in outside of the city of Minneapolis. At a local hospital after the accident, Bajwa went into cardiac arrest. Doctors were able to resuscitate him, but he suffered brain damage and has been comatose ever since.
Just as Bajwa was fighting for his life, another battle was brewing. Bajwa's student visa was set to expire on 28 February, and Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth, Minnesota, where he was transferred after the accident, was making plans to deport him to a Pakistani hospital, saying its hands were legally tied. His family feared Bajwa wouldn't survive the flight.
A student of Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Bajwa was also only insured for one semester for the student exchange program with a cap of 100,000 US dollars, not enough to cover the expensive costs of an extended stay in an American hospital.
— Nabiha Meher Shaikh (@NabihaMeher) February 13, 2014
As the visa expiration date neared, support on social media for Bajwa began to pour in, and an online campaign to raise funds and to pressure the US to allow the student to stay for treatment quickly spread throughout the web. Finally, after Pakistan’s Ambassador in the US Jalil Abbas Jilani became involved, Bajwa's brother announced on 20 February that US authorities had agreed to extend the student's visa.
Social media takes up the cause
Bajwa's medical costs exceeded 350,000 dollars in mid-February and continued to climb. The hospital agreed to absorb the costs and not dip into the insurance money, but warned (before the visa was extended) that it would cease paying on 28 February. Essentia Health also said it would pay the medical evacuation costs, though it threatened to pull the coverage if the family didn't sign off on returning Bajwa to Pakistan, according to his brother Shahraiz Bajwa.
With the family unable to fund Bajwa's extensive treatment once the hospital pulled its financial support, his brother launched an online fundraising campaign on website gofundme.com, which has collected to date more than 132,000 US dollars of its 300,000-dollar goal.
— Anoosh Iqbal (@anooshiqbal74) February 14, 2014
On Facebook, groups such as “Support For Shahzaib Bajwa” helped to spread the word about the need for donations. “Inshallah God will help you guys more. People show that humanity still exists in its full context,” one user, Mubarik Hasan, wrote. Other users, A Facebook user like Mohammad Jibran Nasir published statuses urging friends to help.
The peace initiative of the Jang Group of Pakistan and the Times of India, Aman ki Asha, shared a plea on Facebook from someone who had met Bajwa:
From an Indian about a Pakistani: “I request you from the core of my heart if you could help this lovely guy. I met him on my last visit to Pakistan and I've great memories of the time spent with him. I request you to pl help him out of the situation in which he and his family is.”
Meanwhile, an online petition was created on change.org to demand the extension of Bajwa's visa; it has so far received more than 8,000 signatures. Bajwa's family was not hopeful about the quality of treatment he would receive in Pakistan, and his mother feared signing off on the medical flight would be sending her son to his death.
On the petition, Ivy Vainio from Minnesota wrote:
Shahzaib needs the best medical care that he can receive right now and he will get it where he is at currently. He is one of the most wonderful young men that I have met. Caring and loving to all. Please renew his visa so that he can stay and get the best treatment available to him.
Richard Mienke argued:
I would rather see such a brilliant student and decent human being be taken care of until full recovery is attained and then give him the means to continue his degree here in the United States. It is not a question of citizenship, it is a question of humanity and doing the right thing. Period.
On Twitter, users pushed the campaign even further with tweets and retweets. Professor of International Relations, Earth and Environment at Boston University Adil Najam wrote:
— Adil Najam (@AdilNajam) February 14, 2014
Pakistani journalist, artist and documentary filmmaker Beena Sarwar also requested the US extend Bajwa's visa:
— beena sarwar (@beenasarwar) February 13, 2014
Political analyst and senior TV anchor Nasim Zehra wanted people to show generosity:
— Nasim Zehra (@NasimZehra) February 14, 2014
Slow recovery ahead
Bajwa, who suffered severe facial fractures, will eventually need reconstructive surgery. He remains comatose, but can open his eyes, squeeze his mother's hand, shrug his shoulders and has some movement in his legs.
Doctors at the Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center say that it will take at least a few years to determine his chances of complete recovery. With his visa renewed, officials are now making plans to move Bajwa to a long-term facility in the area.