Colombo | 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 November 2 and he 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 the father, 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.
“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 her father and began crowd funding on Facebook.
Unlike in previous attempts to get a US visa, when he 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 7-year-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 US law and that it could not “comment on the specifics of an individual visa case.