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Trump travel ban hinders man's ability to have lifesaving surgery

President Donald Trump's travel ban is throwing up road blocks for a US citizen who needs a bone marrow transplant t...

Posted: Mar 29, 2018 12:05 PM
Updated: Mar 29, 2018 12:05 PM

President Donald Trump's travel ban is throwing up road blocks for a US citizen who needs a bone marrow transplant that could save his life.

Maziar Hashemi, 60, was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of blood cancer, in September. His doctors say the only treatment that can cure his cancer is a bone marrow transplant. Maziar Hashemi's brother, Kamiar Hashemi, is a 100% bone marrow match to Maziar, but he lives in Iran.

Iran is one of eight countries subject to restrictions on their citizens entering the United States as part of a Trump administration policy implemented in December. Under this policy, people from Iran -- both immigrants and visitors -- are prevented from entering the United States unless they are students, scholars or have an exchange visitor visa. Iranians can still apply for visas, but many have been denied since the ban took effect, although waivers can be granted.

Maziar Hashemi came to the United States to study civil engineering in 1975 and he is a naturalized citizen. He works as a civil engineer, but has not been working since October because he has been in and out of the hospital. His brother and sister still live in Iran.

Kamiar Hashemi applied for a visa to come to the United States in February so he could have the bone marrow transplant surgery at the hospital in Massachusetts where his brother is being treated. His visa was denied the same day he had a visa application interview at a US Embassy in Armenia. After he received the rejection, he submitted an application for a visa waiver.

Almost two months later, the Hashemis still don't know if Kamiar Hashemi will be able to travel to the United States. Maziar Hashemi is undergoing his fourth round of chemotherapy this week, and his doctors have scheduled a bone marrow transplant surgery for April 27. Right now, Maziar's son Robert is planning to give his bone marrow for his father's surgery, but Robert is only a 50% match.

"They are not waiting for my brother anymore," Maziar Hashemi said. "They are proceeding with the 50% match procedure because I get sick often and my body cannot take it anymore. I need to have this transplant done."

Hashemi has pursued other options. Be the Match, an organization that helps facilitate bone marrow transplants in the United States and around the world, says it offered to help the Hashemi family. The organization was planning to send Hashemi's brother from Iran to a hospital in India where he'd undergo the bone marrow extraction procedure. Then Be The Match would transport those stem cells back to the United States. But the organization's legal team said the stem cells would be considered an Iranian export, and under current US sanctions against Iran, that would be illegal.

The Treasury Department, which oversees trade sanctions, declined to comment when CNN asked about the Hashemi case.

Hashemi also has a sister, but she had cancer last year, so she is not eligible to give Maziar a transplant.

In his waiver application to the embassy, Kamiar Hashemi included letters from doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and from Massachusetts Rep. Michael Capuano, a Democrat. Maziar Hashemi has hired attorney Mahsa Khanbabai to help with the process.

"He submitted materials right then and there," Khanbabai said of Kamiar's interview. "They denied the case but said we'll review your waiver application, and that's what's been pending all this time."

One-hundred percent matches are rare. Only 30% of patients find matching donors within their families, according to research compiled by the Institute of Justice. Maziar Hashemi's doctor, Zachariah Defilipp, wrote, "A perfect match will provide the ability for a safe transplant as there is a higher likelihood that cells will not be recognized as foreign," in the letter he submitted with Kamiar's visa waiver application.

Khanbabai said it's unclear if the waiver would be approved by the State Department in Washington or by officials in the US Embassy in Armenia. She is helping the Hashemis submit paperwork and liaise with the embassy, but she said suing the State Department is still an option they are considering.

"We could try to file suit with the State Department for not adjudicating the waiver, because it's still pending," she said. "It is something that we're keeping in mind."

CNN contacted the State Department to ask about the case and was referred to the Treasury Department, which had no comment.

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