The family of an Iranian infant who was temporarily banned from coming to the United States for life-saving heart surgery is “overwhelmingly relieved and thrilled” the child will now be able to have the treatment, their lawyer said Saturday. Jennifer M. Morrissey, an attorney representing the family of Fatemeh Reshad, said she wasn’t sure where the family was Saturday, but they had been expected to travel to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates for pre-clearance after a Seattle judge blocked enforcement of President Donald Trump’s immigration and refugee ban.
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Lawyers had been seeking an exemption from the travel ban on the family’s behalf, Morrissey told a news conference Saturday at Oregon Health Sciences University’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, where Fatemah will be treated. She called the case “an extremely poignant example of the impact of the ban.” “It’s probably the clearest illustration I can think of offhand of why the travel ban was poorly thought out, poorly executed and had significant humanitarian consequences,” she said.
The family previously had an appointment in Dubai to get a tourist visa. But it was abruptly canceled earlier this week after Trump announced his executive order on immigration, banning travel to the US by people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Iran. The 4-month-old girl was forced to return home. Iranian doctors told the child’s parents weeks ago that she needed at least one urgent surgery — and maybe several — to correct serious heart defects, or she will die, according to her uncle, Samad Taghizadeh, a U.S. citizen who lives in Portland.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday night that Fatemah and her family had been granted boarding documents to come to the United States. Cuomo said Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Medical Center had offered to perform the critical surgery, but the family finally chose to do it in Portland, both because of the hospital’s pediatric cardiology expertise and proximity to the baby’s uncle and grandparents. Two in 10,000 children are born with the disease, which is fatal if left untreated. Doernbecher’s Dr. Irving Shen said the hospital performs six to 10 of the 6-hour operations each year, including three over the holidays. He said the surgery includes moving small coronary arteries, “the most challenging part of the operation.”
“This is not a common defect, but it is an operation that we’ve performed on a fairly regular basis,” Shen said. Physicians working on the girl are waiving their fees, said Dr. Dana Braner, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine. He noted that Doernbecher Hospital has been providing care for 90 years.
“In that time, we’ve never turned away a child and never expect to,” he said.