Good news for the USF student stuck in Cuba after a near-fatal car accident: Hernando county-based air ambulance company JET ICU has offered to fly the 22-year-old home, free of charge.
In a news conference Wednesday, Congressman David Jolly and USF President Judy Genshaft announced a collaborative plan to bring the stranded young woman home.
On Aug. 3, Barbara Jimenez, a senior majoring in political science, had gone to visit family in Cuba. The visit was her sixth, according to her sister, Caridad. Along with an aunt, a cousin and her boyfriend, John Fox, Jimenez hired a cab from the airport. Thirty minutes into their journey, a truck hit the cab.
The accident claimed the driver’s life and left the three passengers in critical condition. Jimenez was in a coma for five days. Her recovery has been substantial, though she will remain hospitalized for an undetermined amount of time.
After receiving an emergency tracheotomy, Jimenez is able to breathe and speak, though her sister said her voice is weak and she is disoriented.
The Saturday after the accident, Fox was airlifted away. However, since the young woman did not have health insurance, she has been kept in Cuba to receive care.
According to Caridad, each of the air ambulance companies she reached out to quoted her tens of thousands of dollars to bring her sister home. They stated her condition was too precarious and the high altitude might be hazardous to her condition.
Upon hearing of Jimenez’s situation, JET ICU co-owner Mike Honeycutt contacted Jolly’s office with a plan.
“I saw the news on Sunday night. I reached out to Jolly’s office, … and they took it and ran with it,” he said. “We said, ‘we’re here, we’re ready. If you guys can set it all up, we’ll put it together.”
The plan was made possible by a GoFundMe campaign created by Jimenez’s sorority sisters in the Beta Gamma chapter of Lambda Theta Alpha. The money from the campaign, more than $20,000 by the time of print, will pay for Jimenez’s medical bills when she returns to the U.S., where she will receive medical care at Tampa General Hospital.
Caridad said she had been surprised at the new conference to learn that USF Health neurosurgeons would be involved in her sister’s recovery in the U.S. Through tear-filled eyes, she recalled holding her sister and comforted herself in the notion that she will soon be able to hold her close once again.
“She’s just beautiful all around,” Caridad said. “It’s easy to love her. These last few days, the image that keeps surfacing in my head is when she was born.”
Though there is no official date for her return, Jolly expressed with confidence she could be home “as early as Friday.” Until then, JET ICU and Jolly’s office will work out the logistics of bringing Jimenez home.