Next level healthcare

Providing next-level student healthcare: Emergency medical evacuation

Navigating the U.S. healthcare system can be a challenge for both domestic and international students. It can be even more challenging for a family when their student endures a traumatic injury and are thousands of miles from home.

That’s why all Wellfleet Student plans come with travel assistance from Travel Guard.

With decades of experience working with medical, travel, and government embassies across the globe, Travel Guard’s clinical and logistics team are second to none. Recently, the teams helped coordinate complex foreign medical care, overcame a travel ban, and formulated a four-country flight plan — all in time to provide the critical care a student member needed prior to their student visa expiring.

Here’s the story of how they, along with Wellfleet Student and Johns Hopkins University went above and beyond for one Wellfleet Student member.

Headache proves to be serious medical condition

A student member returned from a workout at the gym and told their roommate they began suffering from a severe headache while exercising and were going to lie down. Hours later, the roommate found the student member unresponsive in bed and called 911 to rush the student member to the emergency room.

Upon arrival to the ER, it was observed that the student had a blown pupil, which is characterized by a pupil that is largely dilated and unresponsive to light.1 The student member was immediately intubated and taken for imaging, because a blown pupil can be caused by life threatening conditions like stroke, seizure, or aneurism.1

The imaging showed brain bleeding related to an arteriovenous malformation (AVMs). AVM is a rare condition where a group of blood vessels in someone’s body forms incorrectly. According to Johns Hopkins research, most people with AVM will never have symptoms with nearly four percent resulting in a hemorrhage with severe or fatal effects.2

brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM)
Source: Mayo Clinic

The medical team worked fast to get the patient to a stable condition for recovery, which included a tracheostomy to aid in breathing and a PEG tube to aid in feeding the patient.

Tracheostomy and PEG Tube
Tracheostomy source: Mayo Clinic
PEG Tube. Source: MedlinePlus

After the procedure, doctors at Johns Hopkins, recommended moving the patient to a skilled nursing facility for care and recovery but were unable to find an accepting facility. So, the team provided around-the-clock support to the student member, including boarding for the student member’s aunt, who came from China, to support the patient.

A month later, doctors noted that the patient was making purposeful movements on their right side. Further, they were also experiencing brain “storming” episodes where they became very agitated. This was followed by biting at restraints, pulling at IVs, catheters, and wound dressings.

Medical evacuation – Developing a plan for continued care

The medical team regrouped to evaluate the student members condition and determined that the student would benefit from specialized care and therapy from a traumatic brain injury unit. However, when looking for qualified facilities across the country, there were no openings. Complicating the situation was that the student’s visa was expiring soon. So, it was determined that the best course of action would be to get the student member home to China, where they could seek specialized care and be closer to family.

“While the event could’ve been tragic, the team at Johns Hopkins were quick and steadfast through the entire process,” said Michelle LaFleur, Customer Service and TPA Operations Manager at Wellfleet. “They were so accommodating in the level of care they provided not only to the student, but how they hosted and cared for the student’s family.”

That’s where Wellfleet and Travel Guard stepped in to help.

Over the course of two months, Travel Guard and Wellfleet worked with a qualified facility in China near the members home to secure care. Once secured, the race was on to coordinate a flight to the facility before the members via expired.

“This was a unique situation, given the complexities of care, language barrier and pending visa expiration,” LaFleur said. “Our team really shined when it came to assuring the best level of care and communication was provided.”

Initially, the Chinese Embassy denied the request due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and a complete travel itinerary. However, Travel Guard mobilized their logistics team to develop a military like operation to get the student home.

This included securing a private flight as the student member could not travel commercially with other passengers due to their condition and necessary medical equipment. Further, the plan had minute-by-minute details with landing and transfers happening in Iceland, Germany, Turkey, Tashkent, and, ultimately, China.

Once the plans were confirmed, the team followed up with the embassy for a second request for the student to return home. Travel restrictions had eased, but it was the logistical plan provided that secured approval for the student to return home to China. This approval came a mere five days before the student’s visa was set to expire!

“It was amazing to see how thorough Wellfleet and Travel Guard were,” said Chrissy St. Clair, Manager of Student Benefits at Johns Hopkins University. “Coordinating a medical evacuation flight is difficult enough, now add in five countries in three days and it feels impossible. But they were relentless. They kept everyone in the loop and got it done just in time.”

Helping students prepare for the unexpected

We’re happy to report that student member is still in recovery and making progress on the road to recovery. The student is now able to sit up and stand with the aid of a mechanical stander.

Unfortunately, accidents and medical emergencies happen without warning. Fortunately, Wellfleet Student and Travel Guard are ready to help student members get the help they need. Whether a student member needs medical, document or baggage assistance, or medical evacuations when traveling abroad – they have the support they need.

Find out more about Wellfleet Student plans with value added services like Travel Guard.


1 Sprabary, A. (n.d.). What is a blown pupil? Retrieved on August 8, 2022, from

2 Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Arteriovenous malformations. Retrieved on August 8, 2022, from

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