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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Student injured in accident abroad

Justin Contreras, a UA student who studied abroad in Guatemala in December, was a passenger in a motorcycle accident and is currently being treated at a rehabilitation center in Phoenix. He has a passion for learning about other cultures, according to his mother Diane Contreras.

When Diane Contreras, mother of a UA student, heard that her son had been in a motorcycle accident while studying abroad, she never thought she would have to find approximately $50,000 to fly him back to Tucson for proper treatment.

“I was caught off guard about the details of evacuation insurance,” she said. “I wish I would have investigated that more.”

Justin Contreras, a 19-year old who was studying aboard in Guatemala, was a passenger in a motorcycle crash that occurred on a remote Nicaraguan island. Justin Contreras’ friend he had met the day before was driving the motorcycle back from their overnight to Nicaragua, Diane Contreras said, when a drunk driver on another bike hit her son head on.

His study abroad program ended on Dec. 9, 2011, the same day his study abroad insurance had expired. This insurance covers expenses associated with medical evacuation to a home country, which Justin Contreras needed on Dec. 12, 2011, the day the accident happened. His twin sister, Shannon McCarthy-Contreras, and his mother were planning to meet Justin Contreras in Costa Rica two days after the crash, but managed to change and bump up their flight to see their son and brother in Nicaragua the following day.

“The first thing I did was woke up Shannon, and we were both screaming and hyperventilating,” Diane Contreras said. “We thought that this couldn’t be happening and that we were having a nightmare.”

Although doctors in Nicaragua were able to perform emergency surgery on his fractured femur, they said they didn’t have the means to monitor or evaluate his serious head injury like hospitals in the U.S. do. Justin Contreras needed to be flown back to Tucson for proper treatment, but was no longer covered by his insurance. As a result, his mother paid $36,000 out-of-pocket to release him from the hospital and needed to find another $50,000 to have him flown to the University of Arizona Medical Center, since her personal insurance refused to cover it.

Diane Contreras said trying to find government or private agencies to help waive the travel cost was “exhausting,” and that none of them were willing to help. After contacting a doctor she knew at the medical center, she was put in touch with AeroCare, a medical transport service with bases in Arizona.

“Other agencies promised, but they never gave dates or a real price,” Diane Contreras said.

Both his twin sister, a UA sophomore studying Latin American studies and political science, and his aunt in Chicago have set up a website to raise funds for Justin Contreras’ medical expenses in addition to keeping a journal of his recovery.

So far, the family is raising significant funds for his expenses, according to his aunt, Jessica McCarthy.

“It’s really a life-changing experience to see how people are just reaching out,” she said. “You read about people helping and sending money, but to see it in your own life … People have just been really, really kind.”

McCarthy’s husband, the biological uncle of Justin Contreras, is a musician and hopes to put on a benefit concert for their nephew with other musicians.

Shannon McCarthy-Contreras said that she hopes to put on a bowling fundraiser and a tennis tournament for her brother in the future.

As far as her brother’s recovery, Shannon McCarthy-Contreras said that on Monday, he was “eating a lot of meals” and even got his feeding tube taken out, in addition to speaking full sentences. She said is hopeful that he will make a full recovery eventually.

“We really want him to make it through and fully recover,” she said. “We’re coping.”

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