Nearly three years ago, President Donald Trump posted on Facebook photos of himself with two children at Mar-a-Lago. The little children were patients of The Paley Orthopedic and Spine Institute in West Palm Beach. Both sported high-tech braces on their legs.
“We love helping the kids — nothing is more important,” Trump said in the post.
Yet, swept up in the wake of Trump’s immigration travel ban for seven Muslim-majority countries are children trying to get into the United States for life-and-death medical care.
A 4-month-old Iranian girl needing heart surgery was temporarily banned from traveling to Oregon for surgery.
Now, there is a 12-year-old patient of the Paley Institute who is in limbo in Iran. He also seems to be caught up in hospital politics for the institute. which is on the campus of St. Mary’s Medical Center, owned by Tenet Healthcare.
Tenet does not want the story about Mohammad Aref Zarezadeh out even when his delay may have nothing to do with Trump’s controversial travel ban that has been delayed by the courts.
Paley wrote to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office on Friday, saying the boy has a serious birth defect of congenital femoral deficiency.
Currently, the boy has a leg lengthening device with external pins going through skin and bone. He was scheduled for surgery on Feb. 16 and any delay in removing the device could cause infection.
“We were waiting for them to get a visa when this most recent ban was announced last week,” Paley wrote to two aides in the Democratic senator’s office.
Sources in Washington told The Palm Beach Post that visas for the boy and his mother were delayed because some of the problems with the documents the family submitted.
Whether the travel ban did play a role in the boy’s delay remains a mystery. Mother and son have traveled on medical visas in the past for treatment and surgery by Dr. Dror Paley.
Paley also reached out to U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach.
The Post received information that Tenet’s lobbyists were in contact with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
In an e-mail to Dr. Paley, the father of boy — Ali Zarezdeh — said the family had an interview in Dubai on Nov. 13.
“Exactly, when we sent the passports (Aref and his mother) to stamping the visa by agency, the ban was announced,” the father wrote on Friday. “Unfortunately, three days ago their passports returned without visa.”
Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order halted all refugee admissions for 120 days and imposed a 90-day ban on visitors from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. A federal judge has temporarily frozen all enforcement of the order’s key parts.
The quandary for his patient may have left Dr. Paley in the awkward position of taking on Trump in the name of his patient. Paley is renowned for his leg-lengthening techniques. In many instances, he is able to save the limb of a child that would have otherwise been amputated.
In that same 2013 posting on Facebook, Paley sits next to Trump and Dr. Ben Carson, the former presidential candidate who is now Trump’s secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In December 2013, a fundraiser was held at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago that benefited The Paley Institute and Carson Scholar Fund.
Paley responded to an e-mail by The Post inquiring about Aref by asking the newspaper not to report on his patient but he would not say why. “I think we are making headway through some connections via some of our legislators. I am awaiting to hear if the family gets a visa,” he wrote.
In an e-mail obtained by The Post, a Tenet spokesman tells the boy’s mother, Azadeh, not to speak to the press.
“We understand that a reporter from a newspaper in Florida, The Palm Beach Post, has learned about your situation,” writes Dan Waldmann, senior vice president for public affairs for Tenet.
“We do not believe it would be beneficial for Aref’s story to be published in the media before the visas have received and he is in the United States.”
He tells the mother if she is contacted by anyone in the media to not respond and to let Tenet know immediately.
The mother did respond, though, to The Post, saying in an e-mail that she had sent passports for herself and her son to Dubai for a stamping visa two days ago.
“The agency told us the process will take 10 to 15 days,” Zarezadeh “Our main problem is the visa and how responsive will be the staffs of Dubai embassy.”
Waldmann told the family in his e-mail that Tenet is working on expediting the process but there are no guarantees.
“There are a large number of individual cases for which special assistance is being requested, many of which are being handled by the embassy in Dubai,” he said. “As a result, I can’t provide any assurance that we will be able to get the expedited handling, but we will try.”
Time is ticking for Aref, though.
In a December e-mail to Paley from his father, Ali, he said “Aref has some pain and discharge around his pins. What should he do?”