WHEELING - Friends and family of a Marshall County native in a coma at a Chinese hospital are trying to get the man home, but first have to pay his medical bill that already has reached $21,000.
John Berisford, 36, a 1996 graduate of John Marshall High School, was teaching English at a Chinese university when he became ill in March. He fell into a coma and has been in the hospital since.
Melissa Brandon, a friend of Berisford's, said his doctors have deemed him stable, but he cannot fly in a commercial airplane. He must be transported via air ambulance.
Marshall County native John Berisford is shown at the Yangzhou People’s No. 1 Hospital in China.
"Family and friends are working tirelessly to raise funds to bring this man home. In addition to paying for the air ambulance transportation, the hospital bill in China must also be paid - in full - prior to his release," Brandon said. "The cost to bring him home, as of two weeks ago, totals $20,000 for the hospital charges and $65,000 for the transportation."
Berisford's sister Dawn Borosko of Youngstown, Ohio, said she last talked to her brother March 13, and the next day she received a call that he had been admitted to the Yangzhou People's No. 1 Hospital in Yangzhou, China.
"We had a full conversation. He was supposed to get on a plane to come home, and sure enough I get a call at 1 a.m. here saying he was in critical condition - but no one can give me answers as to why," Borosko said.
The woman who called Borosko said she was one of Berisford's colleagues at the school where he was teaching. But Borosko said she still has not been able to determine which university he was working at, that the woman refused to tell her. She did offer to do some translations between her and hospital officials.
"We're trying to get answers. It's a non-English speaking hospital. I've been talking with the State Department and the U.S. Embassy and Consulate. They've been relaying messages back and forth,"?she said.
West Virginia Sen. Jeff Kessler and U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller "have been a huge help, she said. "In China, if someone goes into the hospital they have to stay there until the bill is paid. ... The Chinese government has its own set of rules."
Rockefeller spokesman Andrew Beckner said the senator is working to assist Berisford and his family, "including being in touch with the Chinese Embassy and reviewing his health insurance options once he's back in the United States."
"This is an ongoing case and one that the senator takes very seriously and is working to resolve as quickly as possible," Beckner added.
Borosko, a nursing student, said the hospital sent her photos of her brother and he appears to be improving. He has opened his eyes, but he has been given a tracheostomy to help him breathe.
"The medical summary was in Chinese - I had to have it translated. He's had improvements, but they're not giving him the therapy he needs to get him better," Borosko said, noting he needs neurological therapy and physical therapy to prevent muscle atrophy. "He was in a deep coma, but now he can open his eyes."
Borosko said the Marshall County community and businesses are already pulling together to help the family raise money to bring Berisford home. About $9,700 has been raised at gofundme.com/8l2igs, and several fundraisers are planned. For example, on June 16, Bob's Lunch in Moundsville is donating a portion of its sales that day to the effort, she said.
Borosko said the Cleveland Clinic has agreed to take her brother once he is released from China.
"The doctor in China has to call them and the air ambulance knows where the hospital is. They will transfer him there - it's a 22-hour flight," Borosko said. "We just want to get him home as soon as possible. He's been in the hospital for two months. He just moved to Yangzhou Dec. 27. ... It was supposed to be a better job. Other than that, no one knows anything."
In addition to China, Berisford has taught English as a second language in New Zealand and South Korea.
"John excelled at academics, was a member of many clubs and active in sports. John was a member of the Marshall County and state 4-H programs. Always a proud Mountaineer, John is a graduate of West Virginia University," Brandon added.