When a Stony Brook University international student lay unconscious in a Long Island hospital in October after suffering back-to-back seizures, his family was halfway around the world in China.
But Baoxing Chen, 23, an economics graduate student, was not alone.
During the 10-plus days Chen was in a coma, a network of people at the university worked feverishly to bring his father, Liwu Chen, 49, from Hebei, a northern province near Beijing, to Suffolk County.
More than a dozen people in numerous departments helped in various ways, from making arrangements for a visa and passport for Chen’s father to getting a cab to pick him up from the airport. The efforts included a four-way telephone conversation, with Yu-wan Wang, the university’s associate dean of international admissions, acting as an interpreter.
Before dawn on Oct. 19, Liwu Chen, who doesn’t speak English, arrived at Stony Brook by cab. He was met by Matthew Whelan, interim vice president for student affairs, who doesn’t speak Mandarin, and who was unable to communicate with Chen or the cabdriver, who also spoke only Mandarin.
Wang, fluent in that language, was in Abu Dhabi at the time, but she stepped in to get the cabdriver what he wanted, which was to be paid in cash.
“I think I am a lucky guy,” Baoxing Chen said Friday in his on-campus apartment, where he and his father have been living while he recovers.
Chen, who doesn’t have full use of his left arm, recently learned to walk again. He is currently receiving physical therapy twice a week, and hopes to resume his study next year.
It has been a long road since Oct. 8, when Chen, who was with friends at a campus lounge, suffered his first seizure. A student resident adviser called for an ambulance.
“I am fine,” Chen remembered telling the ambulance crew.
It was a good thing the crew insisted on taking Chen to Stony Brook University Hospital. While there, Chen suffered a second seizure and became unresponsive, and doctors were able to respond immediately.
When Liwu Chen arrived, his son was unable to speak or move his hands. But Chen said he recognized his father’s voice.
“Do you want something to eat?” Chen remembered his father asking him.
Chen squeezed his dad’s hand.
It was the light touch of Chen’s weak fingers, his father said, that made him realize his son was responsive.
“Daddy is here, Baoxing,” Liwu Chen told his son, according to Wang.
Dr. Eugene Gu, director of the hospital’s Neuro Critical Care Unit, said Chen suffers from a rare neurological disorder. Doctors operated on Chen the morning after he was admitted, and Gu said that prevented the damage from spreading to other areas of Chen’s brain.
“I saw a huge improvement in him every day,” Gu said.
The student community and administrators have continued to rally around the father and son, with Wang inviting them to spend Christmas at her house along with other international students.
“It feels like a family here,” Chen said. “Thank you, all of you.”