Without health insurance, USF student hurt in Cuba crash can't return home

Barbara Jimenez and her boyfriend, John Fox,  were seriously injured in a car accident in Cuba. Jimenez is a student at USF.
Barbara Jimenez and her boyfriend, John Fox, were seriously injured in a car accident in Cuba. Jimenez is a student at USF.
Published Aug. 23, 2015

The daughter of Cuban parents, Barbara Jimenez has dreams of attending law school after graduating from the University of South Florida. She wants to be a litigation lawyer.

But earlier this month, she and her boyfriend, John Fox, were seriously injured in a car crash while visiting her family in Cuba. And because she doesn't have health insurance, she can't return to the United States for care. Flying her back could cost tens of thousands of dollars, her family said.

Days after the wreck, Fox, an engineer in Melbourne, was airlifted from Havana to Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital, his family said, where he is recovering from his injuries.

Jimenez's parents, Daisy Falcon and Jorge Jimenez of Immokalee, traveled to Cuba last week to be with her.

"I wish we could take her back. This isn't easy," Jorge said Saturday afternoon while sitting next to his daughter's hospital bed. "I feel so frustrated. The truth is this is the hardest thing that has ever happened to me in my life."

Fox, 23, and Jimenez, 22, arrived in Havana Aug. 3 and had planned to spend a few days with her family in San Jose, a town about 40 minutes away from the island's capital. An aunt and cousin met them at the airport. They hired a taxi cab, a 1952 Chevrolet, to take them to San Jose.

About 30 minutes into their trip, a truck slammed into the car. The taxi driver died at the scene, while Jimenez, Fox, and her two relatives were taken to local hospitals with serious injuries, according to Cuban news outlets.

Caridad Jimenez arrived the day after her sister's crash.

"Just seeing her laying there, a lifeless body in a coma," she said through tears. "It was really bad."

Barbara was in a coma for about five days, her sister said. She has since regained consciousness and can breathe on her own, but sustained head trauma and struggles to speak. She writes to communicate.

"She gets out of breath because she had a tracheotomy," said Caridad, who returned from Cuba on Wednesday. "She's so weak that she can't get up on her own. She gets so frustrated."

Barbara is a member of the Beta Gamma Chapter of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, which is fundraising in hopes that she can be brought to Florida for treatment.

Fox's father, Jim Fox, said his son has a cerebral fracture, a broken hip, a shattered orbital plate, and also had a stroke. But despite the injuries, he is making "extraordinary progress," Fox said.

"We thought he might have complete right-side paralysis, but he moved his arm and his leg. He lifted his arm and he scratched his face," he said. "It's a strange thing. They go over to Cuba. They happen to be in a '52 Chevy in a country where most of the cars don't have air bags. ... It's hard to understand."

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every morning.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Barbara's cousin and aunt underwent surgery and are now in stable condition.

"It's amazing they even survived this," Caridad said.

Barbara, who lives in Tampa, was scheduled to graduate from the University of South Florida with a bachelor's degree in philosophy this fall, Caridad said. A politics junkie, she completed a legal internship earlier this year and has been studying for the LSAT. Barbara wants to attend Florida State University's law school.

"My sister has been on such a good path in the past year," Caridad said. "She's been doing so much."

Contact Laura C. Morel at Follow @lauracmorel.