The sister of a Southern California woman battling leukemia who was thrice denied her application for a visa into the U.S. was granted humanitarian parole on Wednesday to participate in a stem cell transplant that could save the woman's life.
Helen Huynh, 61, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia in February and was told by doctors that a stem cell transplant would give her another two to five years to live, according to Yvonne Aivan Murray, Huynh's daughter.
Doctors said finding a donor who was a 70 percent match would be a miracle, but in June, Huynh's family found a 100 percent match in Huynh's youngest sister, Thuy Nguyen, who lives in Vietnam.
Nguyen submitted three applications for a visa to the U.S., according to Murray, but was denied each time. While Murray said Nguyen has property, businesses, and two children in Vietnam, she was unable to prove that her ties would "compel her to depart the United States at the end of her temporary stay," according to a letter dated Aug. 11 from the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City to Rep. Alan Lowenthal, who represents Garden Grove, California, the city Huynh lives in.
After Nguyen's third denial earlier this month, the Huynh family applied for humanitarian parole, which allows the admission of individuals into the U.S. for "humanitarian reasons," according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website. The processing of humanitarian parole applications normally takes between 90 to 120 days, and a USCIS spokesperson told NBC News that each application is considered on a case-by-case basis based on circumstances that include the need to address an urgent serious medical condition.
"Before, we were fighting not only cancer, but also the denial of the U.S. government. Now we can go back to saying that we're just fighting cancer right now"
On Wednesday, Murray was informed by Lowenthal that her aunt had been granted parole and said the news came as a relief as the family had just been informed that Huynh was in remission, which doctors said was the perfect window for her to get a stem cell transplant.
Murray now heads to Vietnam to escort Nguyen to the U.S.
"Before, we were fighting not only cancer, but also the denial of the U.S. government. Now we can go back to saying that we're just fighting cancer right now, that we got what we need from the U.S. government," Murray said, adding that she and Nguyen are expected to arrive in the U.S. no later than Sunday.
Getting Nguyen to the United States was a frustrating process for the family, who believed bringing a match to the U.S. for Huynh would have been easier with a donor from Europe or Canada. To help in their fight, they reached out to Lowenthal, who worked with the family and consulate to get Nguyen a visa.
"I am extremely pleased that Thuy will be here very soon to help her sister Helen," Lowenthal told NBC News in an email. "I am also very proud of my staff. We knocked on a lot of doors to make people in the State Department and [Department of Homeland Security] understand the gravity of the situation. I am thankful that they quickly understood and took the appropriate action in granting the humanitarian parole."
Thrilled to announce that #HelenHuynh's sister has been granted humanitarian parole.This is amazing news and means that Helen's sister will soon be heading to the U.S. to help Helen get the treatment she needs. My statement: https://t.co/oJ2xj66jBW— Rep. Alan Lowenthal (@RepLowenthal) September 27, 2017
Among the other elected officials who assisted the family were Reps. Barbara Lee, Zoe Lofgren, Lou Correa, Eliot Engel, Ro Khanna, Ted Lieu, and Senator Kamala Harris.
The transplant is expected to take place at City of Hope, a cancer treatment and research center based in Southern California.