Their trip to Canada led to tragedy – and more than $1 million in medical bills

Pegah Khaki spends every day with her husband.

She bathes him and shaves him; she is brushing her teeth.

Throughout his life, Hamid Sarabadani has been what some might call a neat freak. Even now, unresponsive in his hospital bed, his wife knows he would want to look clean and neat.

Those aren’t her only duties in her husband’s ward at North York General Hospital, where Kakhi knows the staff by first name after the last year of visiting.

As Sarabadani’s primary caregiver, she also changes her diapers. She replenishes her nutritional diet and exercises her limbs to ensure that her body does not stiffen as it remains in a medically vegetative state.

This was not how the semi-retired couple’s visit to Canada was supposed to go – stranded in a country that is not theirs, facing $1.4million medical bills and climbing, their future in limbo.

Khaki says she and her two children tried their best to stay strong, but they “reached the point of despair”.

In February 2020, Khaki and Sarabadani traveled from Tehran to see their daughter Sougol, 26, and son Soroosh, 22, who were studying in Montreal as international students – a trip the parents had taken every year since 2017 .

But it would turn out to be a pandemic year. With borders closed and flights cancelled, the couple were unable to return home and were forced to extend their stay.

Not knowing when global travel would resume, they moved that summer to Toronto, for its large Iranian community and a city they could move to without knowing French.

On May 10, 2021, Khaki cooked her husband’s favorite Fesenjan, a famous Persian stew with walnuts and pomegranate. As the usual dinner hour of 6 p.m. passed, Sarabadani was nowhere in sight and had not called to alert Khaki that he would be late to see a friend.

Then the wife of their only friend from Toronto called and told Khaki that both of their husbands had been involved in a serious car accident at Weston Road and Steeles Avenue, a busy intersection in the northwest corner of the city. .

“I just froze. I was shocked. I called my brother in Montreal and he told me to take an Uber to the hospital,” recalls Khaki, 47, who taught children with autism and Down syndrome and volunteered to help Afghan refugees. in Iran.

“I was dropped off in the middle of nowhere. I was alone and didn’t know where the emergency department was. There were guards there due to COVID. I just started crying and screaming.

When she was finally admitted to the emergency department, staff at Sunnybrook Hospital informed her that Sarabadani was undergoing multiple surgeries, but no one was able to tell her how severe her injuries were. It was in the waiting room in the early morning when Khaki saw in the news the mangled wreckage of her husband’s tiny Ford Focus.

“It was our car. It was unrecognizable,” said Khaki, who waited two days before being allowed to see Sarabadani when her condition stabilized.

According to the Sunnybrook medical report, Sarabadani suffered a blunt head injury with multicompartmental intracerebral hemorrhage, fractures of the ribs and pelvis, internal bleeding with two liters of flesh and clotted blood in the peritoneal cavity, tears to the intestines and total loss of muscle use in the lower abdomen. , buttocks, legs and feet.

Hamid Sarabadani, shown in hospital.

A police witness report said that shortly before 6 p.m., a dark gray Honda CRV approached a red light at the intersection at “extremely high speed” and struck Sarabadani’s Ford sedan at the rear, which then overturned another vehicle before landing in the middle. of the crossroads.

It wasn’t until earlier this year that Khaki was told the negligent driving charge against the driver of the Honda CRV had been dropped because he had been experiencing an undiagnosed bout of diabetes when the crash happened. is produced, said the family’s personal injury and insurance attorney, Marjan Delavar.

Although both Khaki and Sarabadani have covered up to $25,000 under their extended travel insurance and up to $1 million under an auto insurance policy, Sarabadani’s medical bills at Sunnybrook and later at North York General have already reached $1.4 million and are climbing.

“In this case, they did everything correctly in that even though they were visitors, they had taken out travel insurance and were renewing their travel insurance because their visa status was being renewed due to their inability to return. in Iran during the pandemic,” Delavar says. “But no one could ever have envisaged such a devastating accident.”

During the pandemic, the Ontario government has had a temporary policy of paying hospitals and physicians for services needed by uninsured patients, including visitors to the country. However, Delavar said Sarabadani was denied coverage because he was involved in a car accident and covered under an auto insurance policy.

“A Canadian[…]caused an accident that effectively ended the life of a sturdy, healthy and active 56-year-old breadwinner. This person who was originally charged has not only recovered from the accident, but continues to live life to the fullest with the charges completely dropped,” Delavar noted.

“Canada is a wonderful country that leaves no one behind. And we all have a humanitarian and a moral duty to do good for this family, an exhausted, financially exhausted and desperate family.

Hamid Sarabadani, shown in hospital.

In November, Khaki submitted an application for permanent residency on humanitarian grounds for herself, her husband and their son, hoping the status transition could help give Sarabadani the medical coverage he needs while the rest of the family can stay, work and take care of him. in Canada.

(Their daughter, currently on a postgraduate work permit, is already in the process of becoming a permanent resident. Khaki and her husband’s visitor visas have expired and a decision on their application for an extension has been pending since March. .)

Their immigration lawyer, Pantea Jafari, said the couple had no intention of residing in Canada because they had successful businesses and a comfortable home life before the accident.

However, Sarabadani will not be able to get the same quality of care in Iran, where international sanctions mean some basic medical supplies are unavailable, she added. He is currently taking 22 different medications and requires the care of various specialists. The family have been informed that it is not impossible to transport Sarabadani to Iran, but there are risks during the trip in the midst of a pandemic.

She said the family could have applied for asylum to have the man’s medical expenses covered immediately, but chose not to because they do not consider themselves to be true refugees, refugees. people fleeing persecution. They also wouldn’t accept online crowdfunding unless every penny in their bank account was depleted.

Despite their current predicament and difficulties, Khaki smiles fondly as she recounts how she met her husband at her grandmother’s funeral in 1988.

It was love at first sight and Sarabadani would soon come to her family and ask to put a ring on her hand. However, her father insisted that she finish school first, but that didn’t stop Sarabadani from finding every excuse to come to her house to catch a glimpse of her before they finally got married when she got his high school diploma at age 18.

A graduate in mining engineering from the Technical University of Tehran, one of the best schools in Iran, Sarabadani started working in a business importing ferroalloys for metallurgy plants before selling the successful business in June 2019.

“Everything was good. We had a very comfortable life,” said Khaki, who and her husband bought two farms to grow kiwi and rice, and planned to take more trips until they were hit. by the accident in Canada. “We never had to worry about money.”

Hamid Sarabadani, Pegah Khaki shown with their daughter Sougol and son Soroosh, before the accident.

Their world has changed dramatically.

“My father and my mother were supposed to enjoy their retirement. Who could have known that this could happen and suddenly your life falls apart? Everything still seems unreal to us,” said Soroosh, their son, who dropped out of a food service management program last year and shares responsibility with his mother for caring for Sarabadani.

“I hope people can put themselves in our shoes. We still have dignity. We are not looking for sympathy, but empathy.

Immigration officials say they are aware of the family’s situation. Their application has been pending since November – and the current processing time is around 21 months.

“This avenue applies to people in exceptional cases who have exhausted all other options. This is a last resort and gives the department the opportunity to consider compelling humanitarian circumstances on a case-by-case basis,” an immigration spokesperson said.

“A central part of this process is ensuring that each case is assessed on its merits and given due process.”

Meanwhile, during his hospital visits, Khaki plays recordings of the voices of her husband’s elderly mother and two sisters at home, as well as his favorite Persian music, hoping he can answer. by a wink, a smile or a nod.

“I know there is no hope for her recovery, but in the meantime I have to do something to feel good,” Khaki said, as she carefully sat Sarabadani in a chair and gently pulled a few pillows around him to stabilize him and put him at ease.

“Sometimes I think I’m doing all of this just for me. Maybe it sounds silly, but there’s nothing I can do.

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based journalist who covers immigration for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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