UPPER MARLBORO, Md. — We've heard a lot about immigrants risking their lives to come to the US.
But now there's an American citizen -- a U.S. government scientist -- who desperately needs an immigrant to save his.
The Upper Marlboro grandfather has two donors willing to give him a kidney. But he can't get them into the country.
"This is my last resort," said Dickson Ozokwelu, who is slowly dying of kidney failure. "I am scared. Every day I wake up, look in the mirror and say, I hope there's going to be an end to this."
His wife, his children, his grandchildren -- none are a match. But Ozokwelu – a naturalized US citizen for nearly 30 years -- has found two donors willing to give him a kidney.
The first one lives in Abu Dhabi. The U.S. consulate there has repeatedly denied her a visa. Staffers sent Hilaria Wai Chebe a notice that said she had failed to demonstrate strong enough ties to the region to ensure that she'd go back after visiting the U.S.
The second donor has yet to hear from the embassy. He lives in Nigeria.
The potential donors have had to apply for tourist visas. There is no special category for organ donors or medical need. "It's not really visiting," said Ozokwelu. "It's to save my life. So I do really beg them to consider the humanitarian aspect of the application for a visa to come and save my life," he said.
We have yet to hear back from the State Department about the case.
Ozokwelu's primary care doctor -- and childhood friend -- said he doesn't have much time. "If he doesn't get a donor, than we're kind of winding down his life," said Dr. Okenwa Nwosu. "If there is anything we can do to allow him to live another decade to see the grandchildren, that would be great."
Ozokwelu is a engineer and researcher in renewable energy with the Department of Energy. But while he serves one branch of the government, another is denying him his best chance to survive. "I have contributed," he said. "I have served the U.S. government. Can't I be rewarded with somebody coming to save my life?"
The answer -- at least for now -- is apparently no.
Ozokwelu has considered going to Nigeria, where he grew up, to get the transplant. But he says he does not trust the medical system there.
And so far he’s been unable to find a willing, matching donor here in the US.
Doctors say it would likely take him six years to get to the top of the list for a cadaver donor – and by then, he’d be too old for a transplant.