Injured Mongolian workers face long journey to recovery

Mongolian nationals Baasanjav Chimidbaldir, right, and her son Amartaivan Dovdonpurev speak to a reporter through a translator at Albany Medical Center while discussing the condition of Uranjargal Dovdonpurev, Baasanjav's daughter, on Friday, October 01, 2010. Uranjargal and Oyun-Erdene Erdene, also of Mongolia, were struck by a car on Route 9 in Queensbury on July 3rd and Uranjargal is currently in a semi-comatose state at the hospital. 

James Linnan, an attorney representing Uranjargal Dovdonpurev and Oyun-Erdene Erdene two Mongolian nationals that were struck by a car on Route 9 in Queensbury on July 3rd, discusses his clients' condition at the Albany Ronald McDonald House on Friday, October 01, 2010.

Mongolian nationals Baasanjav Chimidbaldir, right, and her son Amartaivan Dovdonpurev listen to a reporter's question through a translator at Albany Medical Center while discussing the condition of Uranjargal Dovdonpurev, Baasanjav's daughter, on Friday, October 01, 2010. Uranjargal and Oyun-Erdene Erdene, also of Mongolia, were struck by a car on Route 9 in Queensbury on July 3rd and Uranjargal is currently in a semi-comatose state at the hospital.

ALBANY -- She had just been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, was preparing for study in France this fall and aspired to get a master's degree.

But now, Uranjargal Dovdonpurev, called Urna by family and friends, lies in a bed at Albany Medical Center, fed through a tube and barely out of a coma. Her mother and brother, who stay at her bedside day and night, said she does not recognize them.

On the afternoon of July 3, the 22-year-old Mongolian student and a friend were walking along Route 9 south of Route 149 in Queensbury when a Buick sedan veered off the road and slammed into them.

Urna was thrown into the street. Blood pooled in her cranium and she suffered significant brain damage. Doctors had to cut out a piece of her skull.

Her friend, Oyun-Erdene Erdene, 21, called Oyuka by family and friends, suffered a concussion and multiple leg fractures.

Joseph E. Nunez, 35, of Lake Luzerne, has been charged with running into the women and he faces felony counts of aggravated vehicular assault, vehicular assault and second-degree assault, as well as a misdemeanor charge of driving while ability impaired by drugs.

Urna was flown to Albany Medical Center immediately after the accident, while Oyuka was first taken to Glens Falls Hospital and was then transferred to Albany.

When the women arrived at Albany Medical Center, hospital staff put them in the pediatric ward before they knew their ages, because of the women's small frames. Urna remains in the ward, while Oyuka left the U.S. last Sunday with her mother after having to relearn how to walk. When she left the U.S., she was walking with crutches.

Both women endured multiple surgeries, said their attorney, James Linnan. According to Post-Star reports, they were both in critical condition the day after the crash.

Urna lost her short-term memory, and with it all her knowledge of English. Oyuka does not remember anything about the day of the crash.

Khishgene Enkhtur, a friend of the women's who was working at the time of the crash, said she guessed they were walking home from work when they were struck.

The women were in the Lake George area as part of a work and travel program, under which agencies sponsor visas, allowing international students to travel to resort areas all over the U.S. for entry-level jobs in hotels and restaurants. Oyuka and Urna were working at the Mohican Motel and staying at apartments at the Leather Outlet, Enkhtur said.

The women are from Mongolia, but attend a university in Turkey, where Urna studied business. Linnan said Oyuka speaks five languages, including Mongolian, Turkish, French, some Russian and a bit of English.

Since the crash, the women's families have been thrust into a complicated system of hospital billing and insurance claims. The women's mothers and Urna's brother, who were all granted visas after the crash, speak no English and are staying at Albany's Ronald McDonald House.

Ronald McDonald House ordinarily puts up families who live out-of-town, while the children receive care at the hospital, but the Mongolian families were put there when the hospital thought the women were pediatric patients. After she was discharged from the hospital, Oyuka also stayed there.

Linnan said the wife of a physician at Albany Medical Center has helped the families with translating. Sometimes, a United Nations hot line provides a translator. Other times, Enkhtur, who speaks some English, translates.

During a recent visit to Albany Medical Center, Urna's mother, Baasanjav Chimidbaldir, and her brother, Amartaivan Dovdonpurev, 21, spoke to a Post-Star reporter via Enkhtur.

Urna's mother is tiny, with short dark hair. Urna's brother is taller, but just as thin as their mother.

"They're always with their daughter and sister," Enkhtur said. "They need to be with her always."

"Her mom said she is very worried for her daughter because hospital said, ‘Go to Mongolia,'" Enkhtur said. "She doesn't want to take Urna back to Mongolia."

Chimidbaldir is a retired civil judge, Linnan said, and while he guesses the family is upper-middle class in Mongolia, medical care there is rudimentary.

Linnan, a medical attorney and one of the founders of Albany's Ronald McDonald house, began working on the case after the women's mothers moved into the house. He is working to get insurance companies to pay the more-than $500,000 in medical bills the women have accumulated. He will only be paid if he collects money for the women, he said.

The injured women's visas required them to have health insurance before they entered the U.S., but they've exhausted that coverage, as well as the liability coverage on Nunez's insurance policy.

Linnan is trying to collect on liability policies on the car and the pizza shop that owned the car Nunez was driving as he headed to work as a delivery driver.

Linnan is also trying to get Urna into a rehabilitation center - possibly with funds from a foundation - to get her the cognitive and physical therapy she needs.

"A hospital won't take a patient if they don't know how they will get paid," he said.

For a while, Linnan said, doctors at Albany Med were telling Urna's family that she should leave the hospital, but their tune changed after a meeting with him.

"I said, ‘You cannot discharge her. I will sue you,'" he said. "After that meeting, they stopped saying, ‘Get her out of here.' "

The two women's mothers, he said, don't comprehend our health care system.

Urna's mother repeatedly tells doctors she wants to take her daughter home in the same condition in which she arrived in the U.S.

But Linnan Urna will never be the same.

"She'll never be a university student again," he said. "She will probably never function at that level whatsoever."

Linnan said Urna's neurosurgeon is hopeful she will regain language skills and some control of her body.

"She'll squeeze your hand," he said.

"They're little steps but that's a huge step."

Proper treatment of a brain injury involves constant mental stimulation, Linnan said, and Urna can only get that at a rehab center.

"She's going to need intense physical therapy and some fairly intense cognitive therapy," he said.

Linnan said he wished Oyuka had been able to stay in the U.S. while her walking ability improved, and she will need care for an open wound on her right heel.

"Her condition is certainly not life-threatening," he said.

The earliest Urna would be able to go home would be November.

"Right now, she's not medically able to travel," Linnan said, adding that an air ambulance could cost anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000.

Linnan said he is not an immigration lawyer, and is not sure how long Urna or her family will be able to stay in the U.S., but quipped that it would be as long as her lawyer can continue "being a pain in the neck."

Barbara Zapora, a New Hampshire-based representative for Alliance Abroad Group, the agency that sponsored the women's visas, said Oyuka wants to come back next summer for another work-travel program.

Oyuka remained cheery despite the ordeal, Linnan said.

"Here are these catastrophic injuries and scars all over her legs, and she smiles and giggles," he said.

A few weeks ago, he said, both families visited the crash site to say a Buddhist prayer of thanks that their daughters are still alive.
As Linnan left Albany Medical Center on a dreary Friday evening, he remarked on how angry he would be if this had happened to his child, but the mothers, he said, are thankful to have their daughters.

On the road, the skid marks are still there. (a New York Newspaper)


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