Iranian man granted visa to donate bone marrow to brother in US

Posted at 6:18 PM, Mar 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-31 18:19:52-04

After almost two months, the US State Department approved a visa for an Iranian man to come to the United States in order to have bone marrow transplant surgery to help his brother, who has cancer.

Naturalized US citizen Maziar Hashemi, 60, was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of blood cancer, in September. According to his doctors, the only treatment that can cure his cancer is a bone marrow transplant. His 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 or 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.

Kamiar was denied a visa when he applied at the US Embassy in Yerevan, Armenia, in February. After the initial refusal, he applied for a visa waiver so he could still travel to the United States for the surgery. The Hashemis had been stuck in limbo since then — until Maziar received a phone call from his lawyer Wednesday.

Kamiar’s visa was approved.

“We were extremely happy and couldn’t believe when our attorney called and gave us the good news,” said Fereshteh Doost, Maziar’s wife. “I couldn’t stop crying.”

Maziar finished his fourth round of chemotherapy on the day he received the call about his brother’s visa approval. The treatment was intended to extend his life until a bone marrow donor was found, but a transplant is the only thing that might be able to cure the cancer, according to a letter Maziar’s doctor Zachariah Defilipp submitted with Kamiar’s visa application.

“Tears, tears was the response to the news,” Maziar said. “It was a cheerful moment. It was unbelievable.”

Kamiar will travel to Armenia early next week to present his passport and get his visa. After that, he’ll book a flight to Boston, according to Doost.

“My client is extremely relieved and pleased at the result and very thankful that the State Department took quick action,” attorney Mahsa Khanbabai said.

Maziar’s doctors had scheduled a bone marrow transplant surgery for April 27. If Kamiar’s visa hadn’t been approved, Maziar’s son, Robert, who is only a 50% match, was going to donate his marrow.

One-hundred percent bone marrow matches are rare. Only 30% of patients find matching donors within their families, according to research compiled by the Institute of Justice. 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.

Maziar spoke with his brother Thursday morning to discuss travel plans.

“It was a wonderful thing that happened, and I am grateful for everything.”