New: Family "relieved and thrilled" about coming to US for baby's surgery, lawyer says
Girl needs urgent surgery to fix heart defect; family had been denied visas to US
An Iranian infant with a heart defect is entangled in President Trump’s immigration ban – and her extended family in Oregon is on an urgent mission to get her to the US for critical surgery.
The girl and her family – caught up in President Donald Trump’s immigration ban – have received an all-clear to enter the United States for critical surgery, officials at the Oregon Health & Science University’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital said.
Fatemeh Reshad and her parents are expected to arrive in the United States in a few days, the Portland hospital said Saturday.
Fatemeh’s parents were scheduled to meet with doctors in Portland on February 5, but were barred from traveling from Tehran to Portland, Fatemeh’s uncle, Samad Teghizadeh, told CNN Thursday.
Several congressional Democrats released a letter Friday evening asking for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to grant a waiver for the child and her parents to come into the country for surgery.
The delay came after Trump’s executive order put an abrupt stop on travel to the United States for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran. A federal judge on Friday temporarily stopped the order.
Family attorney Jennifer Morrissey told CNN, “The family decided that it would be best to have their daughter treated at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital because of the hospital’s pediatric cardiology expertise and family support in Portland.”
The uncle, Teghizadeh, who has been an American citizen for seven years, lives in Portland with his parents – Fatemeh’s grandparents – who also are US citizens.
“Everything is going great, and we are bringing her here to Portland,” Teghizadeh told CNN.
Fatemeh’s family is “overwhelmingly relieved and thrilled that the baby is coming for surgery,” Morrissey said at a press conference at the Portland hospital Saturday.
The International Refugee Assistance Project is arranging the family’s travel.
Family initially denied US visas
Last month, Iranian doctors in Tehran told baby Fatemeh’s family that the 4-month-old has structural abnormalities and two holes in her heart, but they lack the resources to treat the infant.
Fatemeh and her parents boarded a flight to Dubai on Saturday, but they were rerouted back to Iran and told to reapply for a US visa in 90 days.
Teghizadeh, a US citizen who lives in Portland, worries his niece will not make it until then.
A call for help
Many state and federal officials have intervened on behalf of the family, a Washington, D.C.-based immigration attorney working on the case, Amber Murray told CNN.
Lawyers involved with the case are working with State Department officials to see if that could be expedited, should the waiver not be granted, Murray said.
“I find it deplorable that an infant, who was supposed to come to Oregon to receive much needed lifesaving care, was not able to access that care at Oregon Health Sciences University.”
The governor’s office has connected with the family to determine if medical help can be provided, spokesman for Gov. Brown, Bryan Hockaday, told CNN.
Fatemeh’s family also contacted Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley’s office asking for help.
Merkley hopes to use whatever leverage he has to help, he “has taken interest in the case and assigned a case worker from his office to work as a facilitator between the family and immigration lawyers,” the senator’s communications director Sarah Hottman told CNN on Thursday.
“He’s involved and very personally interested in this issue, being very opposed to this ban as its having potentially devastating effect on lives,” Hottman said.
That leverage apparently included the letter to Tillerson, which Merkley’s office sent with all other congressional Democrats from the state.
“Whether Fatemeh and her family are allowed access to this urgent and necessary medical care in the United States will determine whether she lives or dies,” they wrote.
The Democrats said granting the waiver would be “moral and humanitarian” as well as send a signal that “even in the face of highly strained diplomatic relations, the United States offers help to those suffering tragic circumstances.”
Doctors from around the country, also from Canada and Germany, have responded to calls for help, Murray told CNN.
“She has a fairly complicated anatomy with a muscular VSD,” Murray said.
It’s a common heart defect present at birth due to an abnormal connection between the ventricles or lower chambers of the heart, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Doctors are awaiting more of Fatemeh’s medical records but in addition to having a VSD, the initial diagnosis indicates she also has other heart complications including an atrial septal defect – a “hole” in the wall that separates the top two chambers of the heart.
Doctors in Tehran sent the results of Fatemeh’s echocardiogram to doctors in Portland who reviewed her case said she needs to be operated on urgently, projecting that while Fatemeh has a long road ahead – at least two surgeries will be necessary to fix the holes in her heart – her chance for survival is much higher in the US.
Doctors at OHSU Doernbecher have agreed to waive their fees, and the hospital will ensure the majority of the surgery is covered, the hospital said.
“This is my home. We live here. My work and everything is in the US,” he aid. “Believe me, if I didn’t have a brother and sister in Iran, I wouldn’t go there. This is our home.”
Teghizadeh just wants his sister’s baby to get the care she needs.
CNN’s Eli Watkins and Rob Frehse contributed to this report.