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October 25, 2011

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Train crash boxer faces toughest fight

VIEWED through his hospital ward window, Giovanni Pan's back still looks strong and defined. However, the 22-year-old amateur boxer has lost most of his muscle tone in the three months he has been receiving treatment since the July 23 bullet train crash in Wenzhou, in Shanghai's neighboring Zhejiang Province.

Pan, a Wenzhou native with Italian citizenship, is due to undergo surgery on his neck vertebrae today at Shanghai Changzheng Hospital.

He suffered severe injuries to his neck, spine and lungs in the collision that killed 40 people, including his girlfriend, Assunta Liguori, an Italian fellow student the same age.

The couple were sitting in the front carriage of train D301 when it smashed into the stationary D3115 about 8:30pm on July 23. The impact caused four carriages of the moving train to derail.

As a survivor, Pan is viewed as lucky by some. However, he has had to come to terms with the fact that while he is alive, his girlfriend is gone.

And that has taken a long time, said Shao Xiaoping, a nurse who has looked after Pan since the accident.

The young couple were students at the University of Napoli and had been together for a year. Pan studied Chinese and English while Liguori majored in orientation studies.

They traveled from Italy to China on July 20 and had planned to visit Pan's grandparents in Wenzhou.

Shao said they loved Chinese culture and had planned to study Chinese in Shanghai. However, since the accident, and after learning of his girlfriend's death from a website, Pan has been hit hard.

"He's a sensitive boy," Shao said. "They loved each other so much."

After receiving treatment in Wenzhou for three months, Pan was transferred to Shanghai last Thursday.

He was found to have neck injuries and limb numbness that could affect his balance, said the hospital.

"He won't be able to take part in tough contact sports again, even after he recovers," said a doctor, surnamed Mao.

Pan is expected to stay for two weeks in hospital following surgery.

"This has been a nightmare for him," Pan's grandmother told Shanghai Daily in the hospital.

She said Pan was a keen boxer and footballer while studying in Italy and had won many medals in competitions.

The elderly woman wept outside the ward when talking about her grandson - her pride. "This accident has deprived him of his love and his health," she said. "It's just too cruel."

Some of Pan's Italian friends in Shanghai came to visit him yesterday. Pan's family said they have been a great help, cheering Pan up and making him smile.

Pan simply told Shanghai Daily that he felt much better than before.

Pan's father told Shanghai Daily that Assunta Liguori's family were distraught. Her parents have moved out of their home, as there was too much there to remind them of their daughter.

He said her grandfather, who funded Liguori's trip to China, blamed himself.

"It was tragic to see a man aged over 80 sitting before his granddaughter's grave weeping," said Pan's father.

Chen Dechun, an official with the Shanghai Railway Bureau, has accompanied Pan throughout his treatment in Wenzhou and Shanghai.

Chen said the bureau will meet all medical bills.

The Ministry of Railways said it would pay 915,000 yuan (US$143,170) compensation for each victim of the crash and that the Italian victim's family would be treated the same way as the families of Chinese victims.

Pan's family said they would deal with the compensation issue after Pan has recovered from his injuries.


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