With each passing night since late December 2017, 32-year-old Jawwad and his wife have been earnestly hoping for a phone call confirming their Indian visas so their ailing two-year-old son Maier can be taken to Noida, India for heart surgery.
They learnt of his cardiac issue a few months earlier and took him to Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH), where Dr Mehnaz Attique recommended treatment in Noida, India, by Dr Rajesh Sharma, a paediatric cardiac surgeon, said Jawwad.
AKUH also has paediatric cardiac facilities but Dr Sharma’s success rate is far higher.
“Dr Mehnaz urged us to take our son to India as soon as possible because his condition will deteriorate with time, and will soon start affecting his other organs,” he said.
Dr Sharma took a keen interest in the case and issued the medical letter to facilitate the Indian visa. Jawwad completed the prerequisites and filed an application. He is still waiting for a response.
The visa delay led to Dr Sharma sending another medical letter on February 5. “Now it is March and we are still awaiting a response from the Interior Ministry of India.”
The worried father in December also made a Twitter account in an attempt to reach Sushma Swaraj, Indian minister of external affairs, encouraged by her previous record of issuing visas to Pakistanis in need of medical treatment.
As a small businessman who can’t afford the option of western countries, the only other option he can think of is taking the child to China. However, he is daunted by the language barrier and different culture.
Explaining Maier’s ailment, his mother said he has Tetralogy of Fallot, which comprises four hindrances including a hole in the heart, an obstruction from heart to lungs, placement of blood vessel aorta and thickening of a muscle surrounding lower right chamber.
“It’s not easy to wait each day. We can’t stick to any routine because Maeir requires special attention,” she said. Most parents can’t see their children cry, but in the Jawwads’ case there’s additional anxiety because when Maeir cries, he starts having issues breathing. “So we have to be very cautious about everything”.
“He loves farm animals and has a fascination with the word purple because he has recently learnt it, but sadly we can’t let him play as long as he desires, because getting tired can be dangerous for him,” she said ruefully.
Maeir’s parents just want to get the surgery done so they can lift the restrictions. “He is just a child who can’t comprehend the limitations, after all.”
Jawwad said that when he went to submit his visa application, he met five other people who were also applying to visit India for medical reasons. But it’s not only Pakistanis who apply for medical visas in India, he points out. “Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis and Afghans, whoever can afford it, head to India because the success rate is higher there, especially with cases of children.”
He himself was born with a heart condition that required surgery and was operated upon in India at age three, in 1988 and then again in 1991. His surgeon was the late well-regarded K. M. Cherian.
“All we can do is hope that we get the visa so our son gets well. Every day, I wait for my phone to ring and sleep with the hope that it will definitely ring tomorrow, because it’s not easy to rest knowing that your child is sick. I plead with the authorities to grant us the medical visas. I just want Maier to be healthy again,” Jawwad smiled sadly, shifting his gaze from his son’s yellow four-wheel cycle to his phone.
The writer is a Karachi based reporter working on the City Desk of The News International and a 2017 UN RAF Fellow.