The woman, known only as Zheng and thought to be around 40, was rushed to hospital in February 2008 after an anonymous phone call led paramedics to her home in San Giacomo delle Segnate, northern Italy.
Zheng was found alone and had suffered a serious stroke, Gazzetta di Mantova reported.
After an operation she was transferred to the neurological ward in Mantua and onwards to a rehabilitation centre in nearby Bozzolo, where she remained in a coma. Zheng reportedly relapsed but after further treatment was transferred to another rehabilitation ward in Pieve di Coriano.
Authorities were unable to find out her identity and now, more than five years after her stroke, are struggling to find a way for her to leave the rehabilitation centre.
Zheng “was abandoned” according to Renato Schiavello, a medical worker at the centre.
“Years later there’s still no official certainty of her identity. Every now and then Chinese people come to see her, but it happens sporadically and they don’t speak Italian. Where she was found there’s no-one left, they have completely disappeared,” Schiavello was quoted in Gazzetta di Mantova as saying.
An interpreter was brought in to find out more about Zheng, who is now able to talk and is wheelchair-bound. The interpreter, however, struggled to understand her dialect, thought to be from a rural part of China.
The local health authority has said it is unable to intervene to help Zheng, meanwhile the Italian arm of the Red Cross has said the organization’s China section cannot help transfer her home, Gazzetta di Mantova said.
Doctors have been left with just one lead, after one of Zheng’s visitors left a phone number in the hospital.
Medical staff got through to a man in Turin, who said Zheng had a son in China and left them with another phone number.
“We were put in touch with him, through an interpreter,” said Schiavello. “After a few telephone calls, he sent us a moving letter in which he thanked us medics and Italy, for looking after his mother. He said he intended to bring her home to China.”
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The Chinese authorities, however, reportedly said they would not pay for Zheng’s journey, adding that the area she is from is ill-equipped to provide the necessary medical assistance.
The medical team in northern Italy has therefore renewed its hunt for a home for Zheng.
“I will ask all institutions, voluntary and humanitarian associations, to help find a solution. For a way in which this patient can be discharged, in complete safety,” Schiavello said.