Barbados mom gets to stay with ailing daughter

A Barbados mother, who accompanied her 7-year-old daughter in need of cancer treatment to Atlanta, won’t have to leave her child behind and leave the country next week as immigration authorities had previously indicated.

Petrah Gooding’s visitor’s visa had expired and she was told to return home on Sept. 2, even after U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Service had extended the visa for her seriously ill daughter, Niamh Stoute, who was unable to travel.

Gooding, however, learned Friday her visa was extended to November, same as her daughter's.

"It feels like a load has been lifted off of my shoulders," Gooding told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday. "I'm so happy."

She now will concentrate on helping her child cope with the high-intensity chemotherapy the youngster is receiving for Stage 4 neuroblastoma.

The rare cancer, which has created a large tumor in Niamh Stoute's abdomen, prompted Gooding last November to bring her daughter to the Aflac Cancer Center on the Egleston campus of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. Barbados hospitals couldn't adequately treat the disease.

Once she arrived, Gooding learned the treatment would last twice as long as the nine-month visas she had obtained for herself and her daughter.

"So right away, I applied for an extension," Gooding said.

Immigration laws allow parents visiting the country seeking medical care for their children to stay for up to a year, before needing to extend the stay up to six months, officials said.

While her daughter's visa was extended, Gooding said she was denied because immigration officials said she didn't provide enough information.

Gooding turned in only one set of documents for the extension applications for herself and her daughter, Children's Healthcare officials said.

"We turned in all of our information together," Gooding said. "The only thing that was specific to her was a memo from the oncologist."

Gooding was upset because she felt she had followed the rules.

"We did it the legal way," she said. "We aren't asking anybody to pay for us. We came in the correct way and applied for the extension long before my visa was up."

Ana Santiago, spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Service, would not say what led to the denial, citing immigration privacy laws.

News of the mix-up spread through the news media, however, and reached the offices of Georgia U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss.

In cases such as this, Chambliss spokeswoman Ashley Nelson said a case worker contacts the federal agency involved and works to resolve the conflict.

"Our office is more than happy to assist individuals who are encountering difficulties with federal agencies," Nelson said.

Gooding, 30, left her home and family, including a husband and son, 2, to tend to her daughter's health, and has remained by the youngster's side through surgery and chemotherapy.

To remain beyond November, Gooding said she will apply for the next extension next month, and subsequent extensions every six months.

Gooding had told her daughter there was a chance they would have to be separated. The mother was happy to share Friday's good news.

"I told her and she gave me a smile," Gooding said of her daughter. "If she was up and walking, she would be doing a little dance for the nurses. I'm so grateful and so thankful."

To follow Niamh's treatment, log on to caringbridge.org and enter "niamhstoute100."