A stranger in Arizona

How the kindness of a complete stranger helped a family navigate their nightmare after a horrific car accident

Sumona could have looked the other way. After all she is a very busy person. She runs her own company — Thrive Elder Assist, a companion care agency — and has three children of her own. But she recognized the need. And the nightmare to come.

So she stayed.

It all started a couple of miles from the Hoover Dam on a completely quiet stretch of two lane highway, a car zig-zagged and then darted into the opposite lane traveling 75–85 miles per hour.

The car slammed into the vehicle carrying the Ghosh family, who were on a vacation to visit the Grand Canyon. The car hit the Ghosh family’s vehicle right on the passenger side. The car buckled and split in two. Witnesses say they saw the car turn into a mangled mess as it was airborne in the sky.

The Ghosh family’s rental car after the crash.

Atanu Ghosh, his wife Mou and their 13 month-old baby Tai were in Arizona to fulfill a dream of seeing the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. They had been in the US since September 2015 because Anatu had taken a job with a company in Chicago — and they wanted to make the most of their time abroad.

Tai with her parents Mou and Atanu before the accident.
“They are from a small town in West Bengal, India. He is a programmer for a tech company,” Sumona noted. “Atanu, his wife and his five month old daughter packed up and came over. They are here for the tremendous opportunity he was presented and for him to have exposure to America.

They took four days and traveled to the Grand Canyon. They saw Las Vegas. They walked the strip. They had dinner. That was it. The next day in the afternoon they rented a car. They drove to the Hoover Dam.

All three were in the car at the time of the crash.

Baby Tai was worst affected, and was airlifted to a nearby hospital before being quickly airlifted again to Phoenix due to the severity of her injuries. Her parents were rushed to Flagstaff Medical Center. Because they had not been given the HIPAA release to sign, Atanu and Mou were unable to get information from the hospital in Phoenix.

Baby Tai was alone, and her parents had no way of finding out her condition. That’s when Sumona first heard about the Ghoshs.

Sumona Bhattacharya and family.

On February 26th, Sumona Bhattacharya’s husband received a call from one of his cousins living in India. He was a classmate of Atanu Ghosh and had heard about the crash. To the cousin, the situation was desperate. The Ghoshs knew no one in the area, they had a language barrier, the cousin explained, and they were unable to find out anything about their baby.

“To me it wasn’t even a question,” Sumona says. “I knew I had to help.”

Early the next morning Sumona, still a complete stranger to the Ghoshs, headed to the Phoenix hospital to see what she could find out. It didn’t take long for her to find Tai.

“There was Tai all by herself, broken spinal cord, possible paralysis on one side, first degree burns from where the seatbelt was,” Sumona recalls.

When Sumona walked into the hospital, she found doctors discussing putting screws in baby Tai’s head to secure the halo that would immobilize her neck and head as she healed. Her parents were not there and she had no support system. The only people around were nurses scurrying in and out. No one was sitting by her side giving comfort.

“To me this was a kid in a crisis. There were parents who were not here. So I stayed.”

The very next day, Sumona met Tai’s father Atanu. He had discharged himself the second he could, gotten in a cab in Flagstaff and showed up at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. He had a badly hurt hip and could barely even stand. His arm was broken and only had an Ace bandage on it. He had no idea what to do next or who to call…

Atanu Ghosh with Baby Tai.

When Sumona met Atanu, she knew that the family would need more help. Navigating the medical system, even for a native English speaker, is complicated at best. She promised then and there to take them under her wing and help them through this mess.

Atanu was in complete shock. He hadn’t called his insurance company and hadn’t yet notified the rental car agency to alert them of the damage. His wife, Mou, was still in Flagstaff suffering from severe injuries that prevented her from being discharged. The angst of being away from her husband and child was agonizing.

“She was calling and crying and then she was in and out of consciousness saying ‘You are like an angel. Please watch over my child. Please don’t walk away from her.’ ” Sumona recalls. “ ‘Please make sure she is okay. Please make sure she is okay.’ ”

The first challenge was getting Mou moved to Phoenix to be with her family

For the first couple weeks, Sumona worked tirelessly to get Mou reunited with Tai and Atanu. It was going to cost $6,000 to hire an ambulance company to take her to Phoenix. And, that also required an unnecessary discharge. Sumona relied on a friend’s help another Phoenix hospital to put the pieces in motion.

Sumona told him, “I need you to please make a bed available for someone who need to be transferred from Flagstaff. This is the situation. I need you to facilitate this.”

And, he did.

Her friend pulled through and made sure Mou would be accommodated when she arrived. She would be admitted to the Rehabilitation Center in Phoenix. It was close, but still not in the same hospital where baby Tai was being cared for. After a battle with the Rehab Center, Sumona was able to convince them to release Mou for a couple hours a day into her care, so that Mou could see Tai.

So for 15 days in a row, Sumona drove to the center, lifted Mou into her car and drove her to Phoenix Children’s Hospital. At this point, Mou needed a wheelchair, a walker, a cane and step stool. Her legs and one arm were all in casts. Getting Mou back and forth every day was no easy feat, but Sumona made it happen. The Ghosh family was now all in one place so their healing could begin.

Mou is reunited with Tai.

Now a new reality was setting in…not only was this going to be a challenge mentally and physically, but this was going to be an extreme challenge financially.

The other driver had been uninsured. Recognizing the need for legal help, Sumona took it upon herself to find a lawyer to represent the Ghoshs.

So she reached out to an attorney friend, Tanveer Shah, Esq., who, upon seeing the extreme nature of the case, chose to waive all reimbursements and work pro bono to do his bit to support the family.

According to Tanveer:

Of the gravity of the situation, and the sheer nature of the catastrophic damages, combined with the fact that there is a very limited (financial) recovery that’s available to us, which will not in any way, shape, or form even cover the costs that’s these folks are going to incur.

Evacuating the family from the scene of the accident alone cost upwards of $60,000, he says. And that’s just the beginning. Sumona has been counting:

“They have been in six ERs - it costs money each time. Every time they go in for therapy it costs money,” Sumona remembers. “Every time they go to a specialist, and they’ve been to multiple, it costs money. I don’t know at what point it is going to stop.”

It was Tanveer who recommended Sumona check out CrowdRise. He’d heard of the site from another attorney who had a client facing mounting medical bills.

Sumona felt that if she could help the family raise a bit of money — to put towards their bills, to bring Mou’s parents from India to help with their care when they were able to leave the hospital, even to transport them back across the country to Chicago — she would be paving a smoother path to recovery.

And so Sumona launched a CrowdRise campaign and started reaching out to friends and family (https://www.crowdrise.com/standbytai).

“I just wanted to give them something for quality of life improvement because I had no idea what the magnitude was at that point,” Sumona says. “I just started it off with a $15,000 goal. That was all I was looking to raise initially.”

The response was unbelievable and almost immediate. Many of the donors are strangers, some are friends of friends. But all of them have been touched by the Ghosh family’s tragedy, and maybe even more, by Sumona’s selfless determination to get them through it

Within two weeks, Sumona had raised $45,000 for them.

“We’ve all had good times and bad times and yes people have accidents,” says Sumona. “The way people have rallied around this has just been amazing. $5, $10, $25 donations. I keep telling the Ghoshs, ‘Take it as a blessing, we are rooting for you.’ ”

Sumona has posted constant updates about Tai and the Ghoshs on CrowdRise and Facebook. Her donors have come to expect it.

At the time of this post, Sumona’s CrowdRise fundraiser has raised over $90,000. Though there is still more to go, Sumona and the Ghoshs are so moved by the kind gestures of strangers.

Last week the family was able to move out of the hospital into a temporary apartment that Sumona was able to arrange with Ronald McDonald House of Phoenix.

And, after an uphill battle securing visas for Mou’s aging parents (Sumona wrote letters to Illinois Senators on the family’s behalf and also connected to the US Consul General in India help push approval along. Sumona’s friends and family in India would additionally pick up the expenses for the family to travel over), they are now scheduled to come over from India to help in the next couple weeks.

And so Sumona will now be able to take a step back from the day-to-day.

Though for Sumona, the Ghoshs’ financial burden still weighs on her mind and she has no plans to stop helping.

In fact, as the bills keep piling up, Sumona has just increased her fundraising goal to $200,000.

Baby Tai with Sumona’s girls. Sumona says that they are now ‘bonded for life.’
“My parents call these days and they’ll say ‘How are the girls?’ (I have three),” Sumona explains. “I’ll say ‘Oh they are doing this and that and they are fine.’ My dad will say, ‘How is your littlest one?’ Now I have four children. I don’t have three children anymore.”

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