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Girl in transplant visa flap leaves hospital

New Jersey news from Eyewitness News
February 20, 2012 1:36:42 PM PST
A 5-year-old New Jersey girl whose bone marrow transplant was in doubt at one point due to a visa dispute involving her older sister emerged from the hospital Monday, ready to begin the slow process of resuming a normal life.

Doctors at Hackensack University Medical Center's Joseph M. Sanzari Children's Hospital are optimistic that Yarelis Bonilla will make a full recovery after spending the last six weeks in the hospital, several months after being diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia.

"She was very lucky to have a matched sibling donor; those are the patients who usually do the best," said Dr. Alfred Gillio, who performed the transplant last month. "We had a great time with her," he added. "She was a great patient."

According to Gillio, Bonilla spent 28 days in isolation during which she did art projects, played with makeup and typed on a computer. One thing she didn't do much of was eat, he said.

Asked what she looked forward to eating when she got home, she said shyly: "Eggs."

She should be able to return to school in three months, Gillio said.

Seven-year-old Gisselle Bonilla Ramirez was determined to be a perfect match for her sister after the whole family was tested. But the State Department twice denied her a visitor visa to travel from El Salvador that would have allowed her to stay in the country up to three months.

Bonilla Ramirez lives with her grandmother in El Salvador, while Yarelis lives with her parents in Elizabeth.

Federal officials ultimately agreed to provide her with a humanitarian visa in early December, and she arrived at Newark Liberty Airport two days before Christmas. She is scheduled to return to El Salvador on March 21.

Bonilla Ramirez said she felt good and "didn't feel anything" after donating the bone marrow, and said she thought her sister looked pretty without hair.

"The most difficult part was trying to get Gisselle to the U.S.," the girls' grandfather, Gertrudis Ramirez, said. "But we're a very close family, and that helped us get through everything."

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