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Brooksville company to provide free airlift for USF student stranded in Cuban hospital

Michael Honeycutt saw the news Sunday night: a University of South Florida student hospitalized in Cuba for weeks because her family couldn't afford to fly her home for treatment.

The CEO of Jet ICU, a Brooksville-based air ambulance company that has flown more than 15,000 patients worldwide, Honeycutt wanted to help.

As early as Friday, one of his jets will fly Barbara Jimenez, 22, to Tampa for free. She will be admitted to Tampa General Hospital.

"We're here. We're ready," Honeycutt said Wednesday at a news conference. "When you have the opportunity to give back, you should."

With help from U.S. Rep. David Jolly's office, Jet ICU began this week to prepare for the flight.

"We stand grateful to the folks of Jet ICU," Jolly said. "This is a reflection of the spirit of the Tampa Bay community."

Jimenez and her boyfriend, John Fox, 23, were seriously injured Aug. 3 in an auto accident in Cuba, where they had traveled to visit her family. The couple, along with two of Jimenez's family members, were riding in a taxi that was hit by a truck, killing the cab's driver.

Fox was flown to Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital but Jimenez, who suffered serious head trauma, remained in Cuba because she does not have health insurance and her family couldn't afford to have a medically supported flight take her to Florida. She was in a coma for several days.

Tuesday night, her doctors in Cuba approved her for travel.

The plan is for one of Jet ICU's four jets to land in the Havana airport, where it will pick up Jimenez. The company's jets have flown to Cuba in the past, Honeycutt said.

"It's not as difficult as one would think," he added.

A paramedic, nurse and physician will be with Jimenez during the one-hour flight to Tampa, Jet ICU medical director Dr. Carlos Smith said.

He said the lead physician treating Jimenez in Cuba is "very encouraged" by her progress in recovering. She can talk and also walk with assistance.

Barbara's sister, Caridad Jimenez, said Wednesday that the family recently learned her sister has an insurance policy that will cover her medical costs in Cuba. A GoFundMe page launched by the Beta Gamma Chapter of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, in which Jimenez participates, had raised more than $20,000 as of Wednesday. That money will pay for Jimenez' medical expenses in Tampa.

An aspiring litigation lawyer, Jimenez of Tampa was scheduled to graduate from USF this fall. She had completed a legal internship and has been studying for the LSAT. She wants to attend Florida State University's law school.

"I've pretty much been left speechless with all the love my sister has been receiving," Caridad said, "how much the Tampa Bay community has come together to bring my sister home."

Contact Laura C. Morel at lmorel@tampabay.com. Follow @lauracmorel.

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