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Sunday, August 3, 2008

In the middle of the night: A lawsuit on the patient dumping of an illegal immigrant

Luis Alberto Jimenez grew up in Guatemala, and then came to the U.S. illegally. His wife and two children stayed in Guatemala. He worked industriously in Florida for several years. On Feb. 28, 2000, a drunk driver hit his car, severely injuring Luis. Luis suffered a traumatic brain injury, along with extensive bleeding, two broken thigh bones, a broken arm, multiple internal injuries, and a terribly lacerated face.

He survived, after intensive medical and surgical interventions. The hospital sent him to a nursing home. In the nursing home, he wasted away, and developed ulcerous, infected bed sores so deep that the tendons behind his knees were exposed. The nursing home sent him back to the same community hospital. Again, the hospital provided life-saving care, though Luis remained in a vegetative state, coiled in a fetal position, for more than a year.

Stunning his doctors and relatives, though, Luis gradually woke up and started interacting with people. He regained a mental level roughly equivalent to that of a fourth-grade child. But he still needed much long-term care. He had no insurance, and the hit-and-run driver was uninsured, too.

Federal law requires hospitals that accept Medicare to transfer or refer patients to appropriate post-hospital care. But the government does not finance long-term care for illegal immigrants. The hospital's discharge planners could not find a rehabilitation program or nursing home in the U.S. that would accept Luis. The hospital eventually had an air ambulance pick up Luis at the hospital in the middle of the night on July 10, 2003, and fly him back to Guatemala.

After a brief stay in the under-equipped rehabilitation hospital in Guatemala, Luis was brought to his mother's home in rural Guatemala. His 72-year-old mother now cares for him. He has no medical care. Recently he has had several violent seizures. His mother says, "Every time, he loses a little more of himself."

Too late to help Luis, a Florida appeals court decided in 2004 that the American hospital should not have sent Luis away. The ruling set the stage for a personal injury lawsuit, brought by the law firm of Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley in West Palm Beach, Florida. The lawsuit seeks money for medical care and punitive damages for Luis.

Advice for illegal immigrants with serious medical problems: Get a lawyer to fight for you.

Read another illegal immigrant’s story.

Thanks to Deborah Sontag for the source story in today's New York Times.

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