KIPS BAY — A Polish immigrant who was paralyzed from the neck down in an accident last fall just wants to go home — and his doctor is trying to help.
Jan Kwiatkowski, 59, was walking near his apartment in Greenpoint last September when what was likely a car accident sent him to Bellevue Hospital’s trauma ward with a spinal cord injury, his doctor said. Kwiatkowski does not remember the incident, but his injuries are in line with someone being hit by a car, he and his doctor said.
“It’s been [more than] 150 days, I’ve been here,” he told DNAinfo New York in Polish through a translator.
Now, Dr. Arthur Winer, a 29-year-old medical resident who befriended Kwiatkowski, is now working to send him home to Poland, where he has family. Winer set up a GoFundMe page to raise the $100,000 he estimates it would cost to fly his patient back to Poland, plus $200,000 to get him care there.
“When I’m speaking with him, very quickly you wonder, you know, what do you want?” said Winer, a resident at NYU who works at Bellevue. “He wanted to see his daughter again and go home. I guess when he told me that, I thought, let’s see if this is even possible.”
Kwiatkowski maintained total mental acuity after the accident but almost no mobility, and he cannot eat without a feeding tube. He also speaks no English. He can’t lift his arms to hold a book, and while his room contains a TV, it plays in a language he doesn’t speak. He has medical discussions with the help of Polish-speaking Bellevue staff, but few casual conversations, his doctor said.
“I would like to watch Polish TV,” he said when asked.
Despite the language barrier, Kwiatkowski managed to befriend Winer, who rotated onto his ward in December.
"Something clicked with me and him,” Winer said. “Once you get to know him he tells funny stories.”
A carpenter and day laborer, Kwiatkowski came to New York with his wife 13 years ago to work.
She died three years later, he said, and he stayed. “Here, I was able to pay for a room and food, I was able to make that,” he said.
The details of Kwiatkowski's accident last fall are unknown. Police and the FDNY did not have information about what happened, and a Bellevue representative said only, “Based on patient records, the circumstances surrounding Mr. Kwiatkowski's accident are unclear."
Paulina Pojawa, Kwiatkowski‘s adopted daughter and a single mother of three living in Poland, said she has not seen her father since she visited him in New York 10 years ago.
“When he calls me, I feel so sorry for him,” Pojawa, 33, told DNAinfo from Ostroleka, Poland.
She wants to take care of her father but can't afford to visit him in New York or to bring him home.
“If he comes back here, I can get on the bus or just walk and see him every time he needs something,” she said.
Winer got in touch with city council representatives from Kiatkowski's hometown of Ostroleka, who identified a nursing facility where he could live.
“Sometimes it seems unattainable, to send somebody home to their home country and get them placement and all of this stuff,” Winer said.
“But I think the fact that even explaining that to him, he’s still able to keep himself going and still able to make us laugh, that’s very impressive. Given that his whole life has flipped upside down.”
As of Feb. 19, Winer had raised $4,295 of his $300,000 goal.
“Worst that could happen is that we hear that it’s impossible,” he said. “And then, can’t hurt to ask, right?”
Kwiatkowski said he has no choice but to hold out hope, and wanted to thank the staff at Bellevue and those who had helped him.
“I came to the good hospital. It’s been so many months and weeks and days," he said.
“It will be difficult to let these wonderful people like the doctor go.“