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The 4-month-old Iranian girl who was barred by the Trump administration's travel ban from entering the United States to receive life-saving surgery will receive treatment months later than normal for her complex congenital heart defect, her doctors explained on Saturday.
Two in 10,000 newborns suffer from the condition, the doctors said. In the United States, where doctors have successfully treated this condition since the 1980s, physicians would have operated on a child suffering from this health issue within a few days to a week of birth.
The girl, Fatemeh Reshad, was slated to arrive in Oregon — where her grandparents and uncle, all American citizens, live — to receive the surgery that would fix her fatal heart defect. But because of the travel ban, the baby and her mother were prevented from boarding the flight that would have brought them to the United States.
When President Donald Trump signed the applicable executive order Jan. 27, it barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations — including Fatemah's native Iran — from entering the country for 90 days. The president said the order was intended protect Americans from the dangers of terrorism.
Fatemah gained special permissions from the Department of Homeland Security on Friday, according to Jennifer Morrissey, one of the attorneys working pro bono on the family's behalf. Along with a group of attorneys and a number of New York and Oregon lawmakers, Morrissey worked to find her a path to the United States despite the travel ban.
With their help, Fatemah can now come to the United States to receive the life-saving care she needs.
The Oregon Health and Science University’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital physician-in-chief Dana Braner, head of Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery Dr. Irving Shen, and Interim Head of Pediatric Cardiology Laurie Armsby answered questions related to the child’s health issues, procedure and risks. The family’s lawyer provided details relevant to her case.
“The family has been warned that there is an urgency to this care,” said Armsby, whose hospital addresses six to 10 of these operations a year. “I feel for them that they’ve been put through a tremendous strain as any delay might affect their child.”
Typically a baby who had undergone this procedure would be discharged in only a few weeks, but Fatemah faces a longer recovery phase because her heart defect is being addressed later than usual. The doctors hope that she will be able to go home in a few months, and they are working with her doctors in Iran to build up follow-up care practices.
The doctors said that while the defect is uncommon, the risk of the procedure is not high. From when the baby enters the operating room to his/her exit, the surgery takes about five or six hours while the actual repairs itself takes about 90 minutes.
“We anticipate a good result, a surgery that will provide her a very active and full life,” Armsby said.
The family has received an outpouring of support since their case was well-publicized by lawmakers. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo dedicated his attention and efforts to gain the family special permissions past Trump's travel ban. Oregon Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici took to the House floor on Friday morning to share the story of the young girl.
The hospital and immigration organizations are doing whatever they can to lessen the family's load.
The International Refugee Assistance Program is helping organize the family’s travel, the physicians working with Reshad have agreed to waive their fees and the hospital is attempting to keep the cost of the operation as low as possible.
“We do not think the family will have significant burden for this care,” said Braner.
Morrissey said they are overwhelmingly relieved and thrilled that Reshad will be able to come to the United States for the necessary surgery.
"I think it’s the clearest illustration of why the travel ban was poorly thought out, poorly implemented and had significant humanitarian consequences," Morrissey said of the Reshad family's experience.
On Friday, a federal judge in Seattle temporarily blocked the travel ban. The judge's ruling is applicable nationwide and Homeland Security officials are no longer enforcing the ban at airports. The White House said it will seek an emergency stay against the judge's order as soon as possible.
Nevertheless, the family is expected to arrive in the United States in the next few days for the lifesaving procedure.
“For 90 years, Doernbecher Children’s Hospital has believed that every child is amazing, every child deserves the best care, every child adds something that hasn’t been added before,” Braner said.
“We are thrilled to take care of this child from Iran,” he added.