Des­per­ate Pak­istani fam­ily still to re­ceive US visa

Fright­ened fam­ily now turn­ing to So­cial Me­dia for help

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A des­per­ate Pak­istani fam­ily anx­iously await­ing a US visa for their ail­ing lit­tle girl is run­ning out of time: Maria is just six years old but a rare ge­netic dis­ease has left her frail body wracked with pain and stunted her growth. Soon she will be un­able to walk be­cause her ver­te­brae are com­press­ing her spinal cord. A US hospi­tal has of­fered to per­form a surgery for free that could sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove Maria’s qual­ity of her life, but the Amer­i­can Em­bassy in Islamabad has so far twice re­fused to give the fam­ily visas to travel to the United States, said the girl’s fa­ther, Shahid Ul­lah speak­ing to The As­so­ci­ated Press by phone from Rawalpindi in Pak­istan.

When he sub­mit­ted a visa ap­pli­ca­tion again, he was told it will “take time,” he said. Frus­trated and fright­ened, Ul­lah has now turned to an Amer­i­can lawyer, Face­book and the me­dia for help, start­ing a cam­paign he says could be his daugh­ter’s last re­sort. The surgery in the US has been sched­uled for Nov 2 and Ul­lah is plead­ing with any­one who will lis­ten that Maria’s “case is dif­fer­ent.” “If we de­lay Maria’s surgery, there will be too many prob­lems,” said Ul­lah, who runs a small store sell­ing blan­kets in the town of Rawalpindi, near the cap­i­tal of Islamabad. He said Maria has to be in the United States by next Wed­nes­day for pre-surgery tests.

He said he em­barked on the tor­tu­ous quest to find help for Maria nearly four years ago, re­search­ing her con­di­tion, send­ing her blood and urine sam­ples to lab­o­ra­to­ries in In­dia and Ger­many, con­nected with fam­i­lies of chil­dren with the same dis­or­der, known as Morquio Syn­drome. Through the in­ter­net, he tracked down doc­tors with ex­per­tise in Maria’s con­di­tion and fam­i­lies with chil­dren who suf­fer from the same dis­ease from coun­tries as far as Chile, Bri­tain and Amer­ica steered him to the Ne­mours/Al­fred I DuPont Hospi­tal for Chil­dren in Wilm­ing­ton, Delaware.

Global sup­port

“From all over the world par­ents with chil­dren with the same dis­ease helped me, they were so kind,” he said. Fam­i­lies with chil­dren like Maria also ral­lied be­hind Ul­lah and be­gan crowd fund­ing on Face­book. Un­like in pre­vi­ous at­tempts to get a US visa, when Ul­lah ap­plied for the en­tire fam­ily and was told US au­thor­i­ties feared they would not re­turn to Pak­istan, this time he said he only ap­plied for a visa for Maria, him­self and his wife. He plans to leave his other two chil­dren, a 7year-old daugh­ter and a 2-year-old boy, be­hind with rel­a­tives dur­ing their stay in Amer­ica, which is ex­pected to take five months.

“I don’t know what to do . . . who should I contact,” he says. “Maria is in a lot of pain now ... she can no longer hold a pen­cil or a pen.” US Em­bassy spokes­woman Fleur S Cowan de­clined to comment on Maria’s case, cit­ing pri­vacy laws, but said she would look into the mat­ter. In Washington, the State De­part­ments said visa records are con­fi­den­tial un­der U.S. law and that it could not “comment on the specifics of an in­di­vid­ual visa case.”

The Delaware hospi­tal first re­duced the cost of the $100,000 surgery to $82,000, Ul­lah said, but when it was clear he could not af­ford it, the Ne­mours Foun­da­tion said it would cover the full cost of the pro­ce­dure. “The hope is to do the surgery for the child . . . with­out any cost to the fam­ily,” said Chris Man­ning, who is with the Ne­mours Chil­dren’s Health Sys­tem pub­lic re­la­tions de­part­ment, ad­ding that the hospi­tal has done mul­ti­ple surg­eries such as the one re­quired for Maria.

He added that the hospi­tal also sent doc­u­men­ta­tion to the em­bassy in Pak­istan to fa­cil­i­tate Ul­lah’s visa ap­pli­ca­tion. Melissa Harms, a Cal­i­for­nia lawyer, of­fered to help pro bono when she heard of Maria’s trou­bles from a client whose child has the same dis­or­der. “I was ap­palled,” she said. In an email to The As­so­ci­ated Press Harms said that hous­ing for the fam­ily in the US has been ar­ranged and “the air­line tick­ets have been do­nated. All of this will go to waste if we can’t get these visas ap­proved this week,” she said. —AP

RAWALPINDI: Pak­istan’s Maria, 6, cen­ter, who is suf­fer­ing from MPS a rare ge­net­ics dis­or­der, sits with her fam­ily mem­bers. —AP

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