‘I don’t have family’ – No social services for African man in Iowa suffering from impaired memory, speech after accident and 18 months in hospital

Theodora Aidoo December 11, 2019
Jean-Claude Shako suffered a brain injury and has been hospitalized since the accident. He does not qualify for Medicaid, leaving him unable to afford long-term care. Pic Credit: Liz Martin/The Gazette

An African man who won the green card lottery granting him permanent U.S. residency in June 2018 has spent the past 18 months at an Iowa City hospital, recovering from an accident that led to the death of two fellow immigrants.

One morning, Jean-Claude Shako, a Congolese native was driving to work when he encountered a traffic accident that has changed his life drastically.

According to The Gazette, Shako suffered injuries in the head and other parts of his body from a collision when headed to work at the Iowa Premium meat packing plant in Tama along with four other immigrants. The group’s Hyundai Elantra veered into the eastbound lane, smashing head-on into a construction vehicle, killing two passengers while both drivers and another person in Shako’s car sustained injury.

According to reports, Shako and the driver were airlifted to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, while the other person in the car and the driver of the other vehicle were taken to UnityPoint Health St. Luke’s Hospital.

While the driver airlifted with Shako has since been released from the university hospital, Shako remains at the hospital 18 months after the crash with no memory of the crash nor a family to support him.

The accident has left Shako with a severe brain trauma that has resulted in impaired mobility, speech and memory. He has difficulty standing upright and challenges communicating.

Jean-Claude Shako is helped to his walker by Laura Deininger, a nurse on the neurology floor where Shako currently stays – Pic Credit: Liz Martin/The Gazette

Speaking through an interpreter at a nondescript meeting room at UIHC, Shako said: “I’m getting stronger. If my family would take me, I would go. But I don’t have family here.”

According to doctors, he’s healthy enough to be discharged from the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, however, he has no money for a rehabilitation center. He is not eligible for assistance through Medicaid and he has no family to move in with.

But for the five-year wait rule for legal immigrants, Shako would have been able to access Medicaid but because he has not yet lived in the US for five years he does not qualify for Social Security or Medicaid, leaving him unable to afford long-term care. However, his friend and co-legal guardian Peter Nkumu has been soliciting for help in his stead.

Nkumu and other immigrants have made efforts to bring people from Congo to support Shako, but obtaining visas seem to be a challenge and the fear of sending Shako back to Congo, citing the poor conditions there they believe could prove fatal to his health.

Meanwhile, State Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, an Ottumwa Republican upon hearing Shako’s case has said that in extreme circumstances, lawmakers might be willing to consider exceptions to the five-year wait rule.

That said, Miller-Meeks also wants to ensure that all other avenues and options of support for Shako are considered.

Jean-Claude Shako holds up a photo of his wife, Nadege Zola, that he carries in his wallet during an interview Thursday at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City. His wife and children remain in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Shako won a green card lottery that allows him to be a permanent resident of the United States. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Jean-Claude Shako holds up a photo of his wife, Nadege Zola, that he carries in his wallet – Pic Credit: Liz Martin/The Gazette

Shako now is an Iowan, making him “part of our mission” Geoffrey Lauer, executive director of the Iowa Brain Injury Alliance based in Iowa City said. He also established that moving Shako out of the hospital to a more suitable location will save state resources and also hasten his rehabilitation.

Shako is one of the 2,664 people who received permanent visas issued to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2017. In Shako’s wallet are pictures of his wife and five children who are in Congo.


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