A Polish couple trying to stay and work in Canada so their baby born with a heart defect can receive treatment here finally got a pleasant surprise.
Since their story appeared in Thursday's Free Press, readers including a federal MP and a provincial immigration program have reached out to the parents of five-month-old Antoni, said his dad, Ernest Dlutek.
"We are really shocked because of all that response," said Dlutek, 29. He and Justyna Pikiewicz, 27, arrived in April 2013 on a one-year work visa to see if Canada was a place with a future for them.
'We are really shocked because of all that response'
Ten months later, their son, Antoni, was born with a congenital heart defect. He was flown to Edmonton for surgery five days after his Feb. 21 birth, had surgery there again June 4 and will need more specialized procedures until the otherwise-healthy baby's heart is OK.
Because Antoni was born in Canada, he is a Canadian citizen whose health care is covered by Manitoba Health. His parents, however, have no status in Canada. Their work visas expired in April -- if they can't stay and work, they and their baby have to return to Poland where Antoni can't get the heart care he needs.
His pediatric cardiologist wrote to Citizenship and Immigration Canada saying it could be quite "disastrous" for the baby if his parents aren't able to stay and work in Canada, where Antoni can get "the timely followup and interventions" he needs. Citizenship and Immigration rejected their applications for work-visa extensions.
The story of their plight caught people's attention, and readers responded with help.
"It looks like something has moved forward," Dlutek said Friday after meeting with Winnipeg MP Joy Smith (Conservative-Kildonan-St. Paul).
"We are happy that (she) responded to the article and wanted to meet with us and hear our story."
Dlutek said Smith knows someone who might have a job for him and would write a letter supporting a work-visa extension. "She told us she'd do anything she can to help."
The young family is to meet Monday with a representative of the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program, the immigration program that selects skilled workers who plan to work and live with their families in Manitoba as permanent residents. The English-speaking couple went to the nominee program office earlier and explained their need to stay and work so their baby receives cardiac care. The person they spoke to then told them "there are rules" and they'd need $10,000 each, and $2,000 for Antoni, to qualify. They left the office dejected. After the story about their plight appeared in the Free Press, someone from the program reached out to the young family.
"That was quite unexpected," Dlutek said.
They've gratefully declined other offers.
"Some people want to support us financially," said Dlutek.
His young family is living in a tiny apartment off Main Street near downtown. Since their work permits expired and their savings ran out, they have been scraping by on money from family in Poland. They appreciate readers' offers of help but aren't ready to take money from well-meaning strangers just yet. "For now, I just thank them," said Dlutek, who hopes he can get back to work soon.
The financial strain, work-visa woes and concerns for baby Antoni's heart have been stressful but brought the couple closer together, he said.
"I'm sure it strengthens the relationship. We go through a whole lot of situations -- good, bad and really bad. Especially the last month. It was so hard."