A mother’s pain
Judging by her calm and collective demeanour it would be impossible to understand or know the ordeal which 30-year-old mother Petra Gooding is going through as she watches her daughter Niamh Stoute fight for life.
Imagine not only hearing the shattering news that your seven-year-old daughter has been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, but to compound matters, after reaching the United States for advanced treatment, Petra was told she would have to leave her daughter and return home.
That, sadly enough, had been the reality for Gooding who spoke from her Ealing Park, Christ Church home about the circumstances that led to her recent publicity in the United States and in Barbados.
Relaxing on a two-week break from caring for her eldest daughter Niamh, to be with her two-year-old daughter Narisa, Gooding credits her outlook to a strong belief in God.
“This entire ordeal has brought me closer to God and back to being a Christian. One of the most asked questions by people is if there were any warning signs and some have even suggested that I took Niamh to the hospital too late; but Niamh was an active normal little girl who played and went to get her physicals every year, and at the start of every school year they [doctors] would say she is fine.
“The only signs I can think about now when looking back, was her hair. She had very long hair and I started to realise that the texture of the hair was changing and it was shorter, but I thought it was something that we were not doing to it and perhaps it wanted treatment.”
Niamh was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma on November 11, 2009, and was flown to the United States to treat one of the most aggressive childhood cancers.
Gooding shook her head as she recalled how visits to local doctors and the hospital led to the mistaken opinion of a bladder infection. When she took her youngest daughter for a check-up the physician asked about Niamh and she spoke to him.
“He immediately said he didn’t like the sound of it and called one of his paediatrician friends to have a look at her and that’s when we found out that she was really ill,” said Gooding.
The events following her trip to the United States have well been documented as her bid for an extension to stay in the United States with her daughter was turned down and she was asked to leave and return for another six months.
“When we first left six months would have brought us to May 2010. It is not a visa issue as some people have been saying it’s the extension that is giving me problems – my visa is valid until 2013. We checked on the medical visa but that would only last until 2011 and I would have had to relinquish my current one which lasts until 2013, so I applied for the extension.
“I applied in February of this year and in April the US government sent us a letter stating that they wanted more information from the hospital and we provided them all kinds of personal and financial info, but they wanted the hospital letter to be more specific,” said Gooding.
She explained that while in Atlanta she was in constant contact with the Barbados consulate and was given the best treatment and assistance in getting her extension. However, in July the dreaded news came that while Niamh’s extension had been approved; hers was not.
“That really shook me. I contacted a member of parliament in Barbados while I was down there and his response was “get in contact with the Barbados consulate” and I tried to explain to him that we had done that and needed help.
“That is why when I read in one of the local online newspapers that a Government minister said that Barbadians need to be more aware when they are travelling overseas I think he needs to check and understand the circumstances properly before he goes out there and opens his mouth.
Now after all the public outcry in the United States, thanks to her story being carried by all the major networks such as CNN, FOX and ABC News: Gooding has appealed the decision, and has been given until November to remain in the United States, unless her appeal is heard before that date. She has garnered the support of the Atlanta mayor’s office and the US-Barbadian population.
“I had no problem with leaving and returning to the United States when they asked, but at that time Niamh was really ill and undergoing high intensity chemotherapy and was calling for her mother, now I don’t know any parent who could leave their child in that state.”
Niamh has recently completed a set of high intensity chemotherapy and stem cell transplant under the watchful eyes of her father. Gooding explained that 95 per cent of her stomach was a tumour and doctors are giving her a fair chance of beating this cancer.
As she prepares to leave again to be at her daughter’s side, Gooding stressed that she is not bitter in the least towards anyone.
“I’m not bitter towards anybody, not the US Government, not the Barbados Government, not the Barbadian public who were saying all kinds of negative untrue things about us. I am at peace right now and giving God thanks for every minute I have with my family and Niamh.”