It took U.S. citizen Pete Kendrick about $45,000 and hours in the Russian Embassy in Washington to bring his father home after a car crash.
But his efforts proved in vain. Lawrence Kendrick, 68, died in intensive care shortly after his return to Kentucky. The son worried for days that the delay might have led to his death.
“The prognosis of Russian doctors was a good bit different than the hospital over here,” he said by telephone from Lexington.
Later he learned that the head injuries had been so serious that no doctor could have saved his father.
No official statistics are kept for the number of foreigners who have suffered a car accident, heart attack, violent robbery or other life-threatening emergency in Russia. But everyday headaches only seem to multiply, leaving anxious relatives scrambling to cut red tape, navigate an unfamiliar bureaucratic system and raise funds to cover costs.
If the loved one is in a coma or dead, relatives can wait for weeks to learn what happened.
Lawrence Kendrick, a member of a Baptist missionary group, traveled to Bryansk in early June to visit friends he had made on a previous trip to Russia, his son said. A dump truck hit the taxi that he and others were riding in on June 6, striking Kendrick’s side of the vehicle.
Kendrick, who was left in a coma, suffered brain injuries and fractures to his ribs, pelvis, left hip and leg. One other person was lightly injured in the accident.
Kendrick’s participation in the missionary group meant his friends relayed the news of the accident back to his family in the United States immediately.
Prompt information can be vital in an emergency. U.S. journalist Daniel Nehmad was hit by a car as he was crossing Moscow’s busy Leningradsky Prospekt in 2002 — but his family and friends only found out a week later.
Friends contacted the police and U.S. Embassy after not seeing Nehmad for several days. They found him, however, by calling hospitals in and around Moscow and discovering that an unidentified patient matching Nehmad’s description was lying in a coma at the Botkin Hospital. Nehmad, who wrote several articles for The Moscow Times, had no identifying documents with him.
“It was a miracle that he survived,” his mother, Diane Nehmad, said Tuesday by telephone from Maplewood, New Jersey.
“Because he had no documents to identify him, he was placed with homeless people who did not get much attention in the hospital. But one of the doctors realized that he was not just a beggar because he was clean and had wonderful American teeth,” she said. “Since he needed expensive antibiotics, which hospital lacked, she bought them with her own money and thus saved him from death.”
His parents came to Moscow and arranged to have him airlifted to the United States. He has nearly made a full recovery, his mother said.
With tougher visa rules introduced last year, it took Kendrick’s family a week and more than $1,000 to obtain their Russian visas. “Literally, it took us a whole day just to figure out which form was right,” Pete Kendrick said. There is no procedure in place to offer expedited visas for the families of those injured in Russia.
The family spent thousands of dollars more for transportation to Moscow and on to Bryansk, located 380 kilometers southwest of the capital.
When Kendrick’s son and wife, Ramona, arrived in Bryansk, they were told that doctors knew he had suffered brain injuries but were unsure to what extent.
“The thing that was a surprise to us was that it’s a pretty big hospital there in Bryansk, but to get his CAT scans done they had to put him in an ambulance and bring him somewhere else,” Pete Kendrick said.
Because of his critical condition, Kendrick was transferred to the American Medical Center in Moscow nearly a week later.
“Moscow’s kind of a big bear to navigate without any help,” the son said.
He and his mother began making arrangements to have Kendrick flown by air ambulance back to Lexington. With the flight costing $150,000, Kendrick’s wife put their home up for sale.
Unexpectedly, their travel-insurance company agreed to cover 50 percent of the airlift, leaving $75,000 to raise, Pete Kendrick said.
In a twist of fate, the family of a U.S. patient in Italy who had ordered an air ambulance no longer needed it after their loved one died. Not wanting to lose the money they had paid, they donated the flight to the Kendricks.
With the flight booked, the doctors began to worry whether Kendrick would survive the trip without undergoing brain surgery first. After a few days of tests, they agreed to let Kendrick fly without an operation.
When he finally arrived back in Kentucky on June 23 — 17 days after the accident — he was rushed to the University of Kentucky’s Chandler Medical Center and placed in intensive care. He died on July 2, never recovering consciousness.
The family wondered whether a misdiagnosis or the delay in flying to the United States might have caused the death. A team of University of Kentucky doctors ran their own tests and determined that Kendrick’s injuries had been fatal, said Steve Fegenbush, associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Junction City, where Kendrick was a member.
While the Kendricks had no trouble locating their loved one, Nils Kalvatn Schoeyen from Norway was less fortunate. He spent two weeks searching for his uncle, Erling Selmer Larsen, who had failed to return to Oslo from a Christmas vacation in Thailand in 2002. Schoeyen found him lying forgotten in a Moscow morgue.
No one contacted Larsen’s family or the Norwegian Embassy in Moscow, even though Larsen was carrying his passport. He died of a heart attack on an eight-hour Aeroflot flight to Moscow, where he was supposed to transfer to an Oslo-bound plane.
Officials from the police and the Botkin Hospital morgue, where the body was sent, explained at the time that they had tried to contact the embassy but could not get through because they had the wrong phone number.
Under the law, a morgue is only required to hold a body for two weeks. If no one claims the body, it is buried in a grave marked with a number. Cases of exhumation from these graves are rare.
Schoeyen found his uncle, an unmarried retiree with no children, after calling around and stumbling across a passenger who had been on the Aeroflot flight. The passenger said someone had died on the plane. Schoeyen immediately contacted the Norwegian Embassy, which traced Larsen to the morgue.
“I’m not angry, just disappointed and very surprised that this could happen,” Schoeyen told The Moscow Times at the time. “I just can’t see why they should take so long.”
Moscow police spokesman Vladimir Korobkov refused to discuss any specific cases, but he said the first thing a foreigner should do if someone has disappeared is call the Accident Registration Bureau. Since 2006, every large city has the bureau, which collects information about unidentified people brought to hospitals, drunk tanks, morgues and police stations. Multiple calls to the Moscow bureau (688-2252) went unanswered Tuesday. An operator at the St. Petersburg bureau (812-579-0055) said no one spoke English there.
If the bureau cannot provide assistance, Korobkov said, contact the local police station by telephone or in person, and the police officer on duty will fill out a missing persons report. He suggested providing the police with photographs of the missing person, any available identification documents, and items the person touched for fingerprints.
Another option is to call the police hotline, 02, if no other phone numbers are available. Operators who speak English are available.
By law, police are supposed to open a criminal investigation if a person is not found in 10 days, but in reality, they tend to do so after about a month. As such, people often turn to private investigators.
“Of course, the earlier we start to search, the more likely we are to find the missing person,” said Sergei Igolkin, head the Bureau of Private Investigations, a private detective agency in St. Petersburg.
Igolkin said the hardest cases to crack are instances when foreigners are targeted by criminals, such as a prostitute slipping drugs into a foreigner’s drink in nightclub and robbing him. Criminals who use barbiturates or other substances can overdose their victims.
“In this case, the body is hidden in a remote area, and the chances of it being found and identified quickly are low,” Igolkin said.
Pamela Crane, 72, a British citizen and a permanent resident of New Zealand, disappeared last year after visiting Russia with a tour group. Her son went to pick her up at the Auckland Airport on June 10, 2007, but found she was not on the flight.
The British and New Zealand embassies, together with local authorities, conducted an extensive search, and Crane’s body was found a week later near Sergiyev Posad, a tourist destination 70 kilometers northeast of the city. Prosecutors said she had left on her own for Sergiyev Posad but are not sure what happened after that. They said she had apparently been strangled with a rope and robbery was a possible motive. No arrests have been made.
Korobkov, the police spokesman, said relatives who suspect foul play should turn to prosecutors. “If you are sure that your relative has became a victim of a crime, you should file an appeal with the prosecutor’s office,” he said.
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