Wreck causes nightmare for Ohio family

Dublin man suffered serious injuries in fatal crash in eastern Europe.

Weeks after a devastating accident in the Republic of Georgia, Zach Lawrence’s family is trying to bring him home.

Lawrence, a 38-year-old startup consultant who was raised in Reynoldsburg and who now lives in Dublin, was in the eastern European state for a business conference when the car he was riding in – returning from a fishing trip – veered into a 15 to 20 meter ravine, flipping repeatedly and hitting a tree, killing two other passengers in the car.

Lawrence, who was wearing a seat belt, had broken all the ribs on the left side of his body. He had internal bleeding. His nose was broken. And, more troubling, he has brain injuries, said his brother, David, who flew to Georgia with Lawrence’s father and wife as quickly as flights would allow.

Because of limited flights in and out of Georgia, that ended up being the 24th. They dropped off their bags at the hotel and quickly went to the hospital.

The culture shock mirrored their shock at what had happened. They worried that the hospital in Georgia would not be able to provide the appropriate care for Lawrence, and, also troubling, they couldn’t communicate with anyone in the hospital about Lawrence’s condition. “The language barriers were quite a challenge,” David Lawrence said. “Literally, there was no way to get any information.”

So they decided to ship him to Vienna, where they felt Lawrence might get better care for his specific injuries. They organized a transfer, but made a tactical mistake when a concerned loved one posted a private email about the hygienic conditions at the Georgia hospital – the family was surprised, for example, to smell cigarette smoke in the ICU one day - on a social media site for family members and friends looking to check in on Lawrence’s condition.

A Georgian newspaper, writing about Lawrence, included information about the social media post. Almost immediately, the cost of transporting Lawrence from Georgia to Vienna skyrocketed. The cost went from between $25,000 and $30,000 to $50,000. The family was told they had to pay in cash – U.S. dollars – and not credit card. They were torn – wiring that much money overseas is difficult, but “we felt it was a matter of life and death,” said David Lawrence. “And every day delayed his chances of survival.”

David Lawrence said he believed that the price disparity was a result of inadvertently offending the government. The medical transport agency, he said, “did a fantastic job.”

A cousin put them in touch with Rep. Steve Stivers’ office, and the family also worked with Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Twp., their congressmen. Staff for both lawmakers reached out to the State Department in hopes of smoothing over the raw feelings.

“As a member of Congress, one of my most important duties is helping Ohioans communicate with the federal government,” said Tiberi. “When an emergency occurs abroad I am able to advocate on behalf of individuals and families to the State Department. That is the case with Zach and his family. I am praying for his recovery and will continue to help the Lawrences every way I can.”

Stivers, R-Upper Arlington, said he worked to support Tiberi. Staff for the two lawmakers worked with the U.S. embassy in Georgia. “I was happy to be helpful,” Stivers said.

The family worried that getting the federal government involved created the risk of inflaming the Georgian government more. They ultimately figured out how to get the money wired over and paid for the transport. Zach Lawrence arrived in Vienna March 29.By that time, he had MRSA and pneumonia.

It wasn’t until April 5, however, that doctors declared the infections gone.

Now, said David Lawrence, “his body is getting better. He’s getting less assistance from the ventilator. He’s breathing mostly on his own. But his mind is what we’re not quite sure about.”

So now, the Lawrence family waits for Zach, a diehard Buckeyes fan with a young son and daughter, to wake up from his coma. They have had some encouragement — he seems to respond when they mention the things he loves most — but won’t be sure until they’re sure.

Their next step, they say, will be to pay for another medical transport — this one to the United States, where Zach’s wife, brother and father can be joined by the other loved ones who are waiting for Zach to wake up. They want to bring him to a center that focuses on head trauma, and say moving him to the U.S. is the best move to provide him the long term care he may need.

They’re hoping to move him as early as this week, but, again, will deal with the high cost of renting what is essentially a mobile intensive care unit. The family has set up a youcaring site to help raise money for the transfer at https://www.youcaring.com/zachandmeghanlawrence-782854.

In the meantime, said David Lawrence, he, Zach’s wife Meghan and Zach’s father wait in Vienna.

“We look forward to seeing him every day,” he said. “But it tears us up.”

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