A U.S. veteran may lose the chance for a life-saving bone marrow transplant because a staffer in the U.S. consulate denied a visa to the Costa Rican woman who was going to undertake an extraordinary effort to help him.
The man is Dan Smart, 65, and he suffers from leukemia. As a U.S. Navy veteran, he is eligible for federal health care. After complex efforts, he is listed for a bone marrow transplant at a Veterans Administration contractor in Seattle.
To get the transplant, Smart, who lives here part-time in Los Anonos, has to show up with someone willing to stay with him 24 hours a day in a medically clean facility for at least four months. He was divorced two years ago and said that he is living on Social Security and has no one else close who will take on such a challenge.
His Costa Rican housekeeper has become his significant other. She is Ana Maria Martínez, 50, who showed up at the U.S. Embassy Wednesday with a stack of papers attesting to Smart’s condition. She was denied a U.S. visa even though she said she told the middle-aged man working behind Window 17 that the situation was one of life and death.
Ms. Martínez owns her own home here and is a domestic employee for a number of families in the Los Anonos area.
She said that she has children, grandchildren and even her ailing parents here in Costa Rica.
She also carried to the embassy’s visa section the Veterans Administration regulations that require someone to stay with Smart 24 hours a day, seven days a week for at least four months while the transplant takes.
As those who have experienced similar rejections know, there is no formal route of appeal of a visa denial.
Smart is from Sheridan, Wyoming, where he lives part-time. He said this is the second time Ms. Martínez has been denied a visa. The last time was in February when she simply wanted to visit him in Wyoming where he was undergoing chemotherapy, Smart said.
The chemo did not work, so a transplant is his last hope. Because of his age, he had to submit to medical tests to win a waiver for the operation. He also had to maneuver around other problems so that the date was fixed for his operation. That was supposed to be at the end of October, but the U.S. Embassy computerized visa appointment system could not be sidestepped even after the Office of U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming sent a written request. An aide to the senator said there had been no reply to the message.
Eric Turner, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy invoked the Privacy Act in his response to a reporter’s questions.
“. . . visa records are protected in essentially the same manner as American citizen’s records. The Embassy does not discuss individual visa cases publicly. Nor would we comment publicly on Mr. Smart’s case without his approval.
“Speaking hypothetically, as Mr. Smart is an American citizen, there are many ways the Embassy can help him directly, up to and including arranging for a medical escort to travel back to the United States with him should he be unable to travel on his own. Our consular officers would also be happy to help liaise with social service agencies in the United States and/or the VA itself, should that be necessary.
“I think we all are united in wishing for the best possible outcome for Mr. Smart’s illness and are thankful for his service to our country.
Friends here, including Dan Wise of Barra del Colorado and local veterans, are seeking alternatives today to help Smart.