Visa needed for bone marrow transplant denied

November 28, 2011 3:02:59 PM PST
5-year-old Yarelis Bonilla is in the fight of her life.

She has cancer and needs a bone-marrow transplant.

Her 7-year-old sister is a match, but there's a problem, her sister lives in El Salvador and she's been unable to get a visa to come to the U.S.

Eyewitness News spoke with Senator Bob Menendez on Monday and he is using his influence as a U.S. Senator to try to get immigration officials to make an exception for a 7-year old girl to come here to save her sister's life.

When 5-year old Yarelis Bonilla draws a picture of herself, she includes a big smile and long hair.

Her hair fell out during chemotherapy, to fight the aggressive form of leukemia she was diagnosed with six months ago.

"I was crying and crying and then I couldn't walk and then my mom took me to the bathroom," Yarelis Bonilla said.

Instead of going to kindergarten, Yarelis is taught at home to protect her fragile immune system. Instead of playing with friends, she plays at the hospital.

"I eat pizza there and then I go to play in the playroom," Bonilla said.

Yarelis's doctors say a bone marrow transplant will greatly increase her chances of survival.

After testing the entire family, doctors determined that Yarelis's seven-year old sister Gissele is the only match.

But she lives in El Salvador and the U.S. has rejected her visa application twice.

I feel very bad, it doesn't feel good to have to wait, said Yarelis' mother Maria from her apartment in Elizabeth.

The Bonilla family has assured authorities that Giselle will come here to donate the life-saving bone marrow to her ailing sister and will then return to El Salvador, where she lives with her grandmother.

"This is not a child who will come here and stay here forever. She is coming here to save a life," said Mariam Habib, an immigration attorney.

Yarelis was born in the US and is an American citizen.

Her doctors have said that the bone marrow procedure cannot and should not be done in El Salvador, which means the only choice to save this child's life is to have her sister come here.

"It is to save a life and a bureaucratic interpretation of a law should not stop us from saving a life and I hope common sense will prevail," Sen. Menendez said.

There is the issue of time, as doctors want to do the bone marrow transplant in January, they expect Giselle would be in the country for 2-3 months and then return home.