USF student seriously injured in Cuba to graduate Saturday

Haley Hinds reports

- For the first time, a University of South Florida student who was seriously injured in Cuba is sharing her story of recovery and gratitude.

One year ago, Barbara Jimenez was visiting family when a semi-truck hit the cab she was riding in, killing the driver. It took a community effort to bring her back home.

Barbara was stranded in Cuba for three weeks, in a coma for two of them. Despite injuries ranging from a fractured skull to a brain aneurysm, she's doing about well as she possibly could be. And, the icing on the cake? She's graduating Saturday.

For most college students, the biggest obstacle between them and a degree, is getting the grades. For Barbara Jimenez, it took a miracle.

"This is a miracle," Jimenez said. "The fact that this many people from so many different sectors got so involved to help me."

A year ago, this bright young woman was lying in a hospital bed, far from home.

"I don't remember much from the accident," Jimenez said.

Mere minutes after landing in Cuba to visit family, a semi truck hit a taxi cab carrying Barbara, her boyfriend and two family members.

"Hit us face forward, just hit us on the side," Jimenez said. "All the cars in Cuba are from like the 50s so the seat belts, airbags, nothing is up to date."

The impact killed the driver and seriously injured everyone else. Barabra had a skull fracture, nerve damage near her eye, a brain aneurysm. She was in a coma for two weeks. With no insurance, her family couldn't afford treatments or a medical flight back to the United States.
 
"There were significant diplomatic challenges, financial challenges, medical challenges," said U.S. Representative David Jolly.
 
As her story got around, the community stepped up. Congressman Jolly connected her with Jet I.C.U. which offered to fly her back home for free. Another company covered medical expenses in Cuba. And, her USF sorority raised thousands of dollars.

"Barbara's is a very human story," Jolly said. "It's reassuring and it speaks to the spirit of so many people in the Bay area that saw her story and wanted to help."

Though it's been a long recovery, Barbara was determined to get her degree. This weekend, she'll be a USF grad, well before doctors thought it would be possible.

"I'm definitely coming to a better place now I look at it as a thing in the past," Jimenez said. "Before, it was very hard, it still seemed like a very present part of my life. But, I am graduating tomorrow. So, it's part of my story that makes me Barbara now versus the thing that is holding me back."

After graduation, Barbara is planning to take the year off before possibly heading to law school. But, she said one thing is for certain in her future: She wants to find a way to give back to the community that gave her so much help when she truly needed it.

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