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Plea for a Lifeline

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It’s a story no less tragic for all of its familiarity: a terminally ill patient is in a race against time to find a suitable donor for a transplant.

But the predicament of Zhaoqi Lao--who suffers from chronic myeloid leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant--is an unusual one.

The 36-year-old Monterey Park man has already found a perfect match--his brother, Zhaohua Lao.

The problem is that his brother lives in the People’s Republic of China and the United States has refused four times since November to grant him a temporary non-immigrant visa.

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The visa was denied because the U.S. State Department believes the brother in China has intentions to immigrate, Lao’s supporters say.

A State Department spokesman said he was not familiar with the case and had no immediate comment on the matter.

David Ma, president of the Chinese American Civil Rights Organization, sought help from President Clinton.

“We have examined the relevant evidence and firmly believe that the grounds for rejection do not agree with reality and are unjust,” Ma wrote to the President.

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Zhaohua Lao, 42, is married, owns a home in China and earns a good living as a decorator--proof that he has “deep roots” in China and has no interest in moving to the United States, Ma said.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D--Calif.) and U.S. Rep. Matthew G. Martinez (D--Monterey Park) are also trying to help the Lao family.

Boxer’s office was recently told that U.S. consular officials in China had rejected the visa application again last month, said Larry Kaplan, a spokesman for Boxer.

“We intend to contact the State Department and do an inquiry,” Kaplan said.

Martinez’s office is also trying to assist Lao.

“We have been working with the Department of State lining people up to provide bonds,” said Maxine Grant, Martinez’s chief of staff. “One of his cousins is vouching for his financial support, and his church is purchasing an insurance policy. It’s not final yet. We will make a formal plea as soon as we get the documents in our hot little hands.”

At a news conference Wednesday called by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, Lao said: “The coming of my brother is my only hope. My physical situation now is very weak. . . . Every day, I feel tired and I suffer chronically from high fevers.”

Warned Antonovich: “The clock is ticking.”

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Doctors at Los Angeles’ City of Hope National Medical Center say Lao has only a few months to live if he does not get a transplant soon. The only match they have found in their extensive search is his older brother.

In a letter to the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, the City of Hope’s Dr. Henry Fung said: “His brother, Zhaohua Lao, . . . is the only suitable donor available.”

The transplant operation has a much higher success rate in the United States than in China, and transporting the marrow from China would not work as well as having the donor close by, officials said.

“The people with leukemia who went into the hospital the same time I did have already died because they never found transplants,” Lao said. “This is the only way to save my life. . . . I humbly request that the U.S. Consulate can grant a visa to my brother.”

Lao immigrated to the United States 2 1/2 years ago. Before he was diagnosed as having leukemia in 1995, he worked as a landscape architect. With the disease, he said, he has been too weak to work.


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