A Polish couple whose baby was born with a congenital defect in Winnipeg is hoping Canada opens its heart to their infant son.
Justyna Pikiewicz and Ernest Dlutek say after their work visas expired in April they would've given up on starting a new life in Canada and returned to Poland.
But since baby Antoni was born here Feb. 21 with a condition requiring pediatric heart surgery in Edmonton, they're desperate to remain.
"The baby has to stay in Canada," said Dlutek, 29. "He's stable but he will need surgery in the future," said his father.
Antoni had surgery five days after he was born, a heart catheterization in April that didn't work and open-heart surgery June 4 .
The timeliness and quality of care Antoni has received in Canada aren't available in Poland, he said. "It's a different story here -- like heaven and hell."
Antoni's mom said wait times in Poland for pediatric heart surgery are years long. "Children are dying," said Pikiewicz, 27.
The English-speaking couple from Warsaw arrived in April 2013 on a one-year visa to see if Canada was a place with a future for them. The university-educated pair saw no way of getting jobs in their field -- never mind getting ahead -- in Poland or any other European country.
"That's why we decided to come to Canada," said Pikiewicz. She has a four-year degree as a food-technology engineer but worked as a receptionist in Warsaw until they left. Dlutek, 29, studied photography but worked as a restaurant cook.
Under the Poland/Canada Working Holiday Program, they arrived in Winnipeg and found jobs at Canad Inns Polo Park for eight months and lived in a rooming house to save money. Then they found out they were expecting a baby.
"We were scared, but really happy," she said.
When their hours at the hotel were cut, he found a manufacturing job at a local furniture plant. They moved out of the crowded West End rooming house where they shared a bathroom and kitchen with seven people and into a tiny, tidy apartment of their own on Jarvis Avenue at Main Street.
When they discovered the baby they were expecting had a serious heart defect, Dlutek said they were sad about the news but grateful that the baby was being born in Canada where he'd get the care he needed to survive.
In February, Antoni was born. Five days later, he underwent heart surgery in Edmonton.
"We started doing everything we can to stay in Canada," said Dlutek.
Antoni is a Canadian citizen and Manitoba Health covers his care as long as he stays in Canada.
In April, the new parents' work visas expired and Dlutek had to leave his manufacturing job.
Their Variety Children's Heart Centre pediatric cardiologist wrote to Citizenship and Immigration Canada saying the baby needs ongoing medical care and asked the federal department to extend his parents' visas so the family can remain in Canada. The letter from Dr. Daryl Schantz said if Antoni doesn't have timely followup and interventions, "it could be quite disastrous for him and I hope you bear this in mind as you continue to review the couple's application for visa extension."
A month later, the new parents each received form letters from Citizenship and Immigration Canada rejecting their application for a work-permit extension.
The letters said without a labour-market opinion and confirmation of employment from a prospective employer, they are no longer eligible to work.
Dlutek said the furniture manufacturing plant where he worked said there was no way it would request a labour-market opinion to keep him.
They've burned through their savings and are now getting help from family in Poland to help them cover living expenses in Winnipeg.
"It's horrible," said Dlutek who spends much of the day searching online for jobs across Canada that would give the required labour-market opinion.
"We want to work and pay taxes and be here legally," said Pikiewicz.
"We want our baby to live."