Monday, May 29, 2017
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Brisbane parish steps in to support mother and son in visa limbo caring for former kickboxing champion

Abdollah Pouri family

Family devotion: Masoud Abdollah Pouri, his brother Edris and mother Fatemeh. Masoud has major brain damage and is unable to move most of his body. Photo: Mark Bowling

MASOUD Abdollah Pouri was once a sporting champion.

Now the former member of Iran’s elite Thai kickboxing team is languishing in an aged-care nursing home in Brisbane’s northern suburbs.

He has a brain injury. He is unable to move most of his body and is in the constant care of his mother Fatemeh and younger brother Edris.

Masoud’s story is tragic, but the extraordinary devotion shown by his mother and brother is inspiring.

So too is the “care for the stranger” offered by one Catholic parish as the family waits for visas that would allow them to stay in Australia to care for their loved one.

After competing at the world Thai kickboxing championships in Bangkok in 2002, Masoud, 35, travelled to Australia and “defected” with three other members of Iran’s elite boxing team.

With his sporting credentials, he was soon granted permanent residency and became an Australian citizen.

He studied nursing and became a paramedic, as he continued a professional career as a kickboxer.

Weighing in as a heavyweight, he was known in the ring as “the Iranian Tank”.

“He had a lot of plans for his life. Dreams,” his brother Edris said.

In early June 2013, Masoud’s middle-aged father died suddenly in Iran.

About two weeks later in Brisbane, one evening Masoud suffered a massive stroke.

He was found on the floor at his rented apartment about 12 hours later and was rushed to hospital.

During that time his brain was starved of oxygen.

A fortnight later Edris, and soon after, his mother Fatemeh arrived in Australia to find their beloved Masoud in intensive care.

For almost four years they have kept a daily vigil providing constant care for Masoud, as he was moved to an acquired brain injury unit, and then to long-term residential care.

He has hypoxic brain injury, which has left him unable to speak, and his limbs motionless.

“Maybe his stroke was a result of a boxing hit, but no doctor can say for sure,” Edris said.

A doctor has examined Masoud’s condition and deemed that the former boxer requires full-time care. He probably always will.

Remarkably, Masoud, who once spoke seven languages, can still follow a conversation (in English and Kurdish) and can respond by blinking – once for “yes”, twice for “no”.

He can smile, and he can cry.

Fatemeh whispers to Masoud as he follows our conversation.

He is sitting in a wheelchair in Gannet House a residential aged-care facility in Brighton.

Most of the other residents are twice his age.

With motherly love Fatemeh wipes away Masoud’s tears, she massages his neck and shoulders, and his hands and feet.

She spoon-feeds him, the way she does every meal, every day.

Fatemeh has rarely left Masoud’s bedside since arriving in Brisbane from the Kurdish-speaking northern Iran town of Mahabad.

That was four years ago. She has family she misses at home.

She has not learned English.

Mother and son

Mother’s love: Fatemeh constantly cares for her son Masoud Abdollah Pouri, a former kickboxing champion.  Behind the pair are photos of Masoud’s sporting career. Photo: Mark Bowling

Edris, 33, an architect, has also put his life on hold to care for Masoud. It’s an extraordinary sacrifice for a young professional not to work.

Six days a week at 9am he drives his mother from their rented house close to the nursing home.

Edris and Fatemeh assist with Masoud’s feeding, nursing care, physio, dressing, bathing and shaving. They return home at 6pm.

On weekends, Edris brings Masoud home for a few hours during the day via a maxicab.

“Weekends. It’s the closest thing we get to rest,” he said. “For about six hours I can attend to the bills and paperwork.”

The paperwork includes the family’s attempts to obtain visas that would allow them to stay in Brisbane to care for Masoud.

Since their sudden arrival in Australia, Edris and Fatemeh were granted urgent visitor visas and have had these visas extended regularly.

Both mother and son have applied to the Immigration authorities for carer visas that would allow them to stay permanently.

So far, there has been no progress on that.

Neither mother nor son is willing to leave Australia, because they risk losing their current visa status.

Other family members have tried to come to Australia to assist in the caring, but have been refused visas.

“Our youngest brother has not seen Masoud in nine years, and I wonder if he ever will,” Edris said.

As the family waits for visas, cash savings are rapidly drying up.

By the end of this year they won’t have enough money to support their stay in Australia.

It would be possible for Edris to find some poorly paid casual work, but then, who would drive Fatemeh to and from the hospital each day?

Amidst the money worries, the visa uncertainty and the gruelling daily vigil of care, there has been a shard of light for Masoud’s family.

Members of the Parish of St Joseph and St Anthony, Bracken Ridge, have stepped in, providing a low-rent ($100 a week) three-bedroom home, donating furniture and clothes, and lobbying politicians to speed up visa applications.

“This is a tragic tale,” Helen Hickey, the parish’s sacramental co-ordinator and one of those lending a helping hand, said.

“It is incredible to see the family devotion.

“For my husband Brian and I to help, to be involved, is a real blessing.”

Parish council member Tom Gordon has offered housing assistance and has led an advocacy campaign to state and federal politicians, including Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton.

“I am not asking for special consideration for this family to jump the queue, but I am asking for an immediate compassionate response by the Minister because of their unique situation,” Mr Gordon wrote in a letter to Federal Member for Petrie Luke Howarth.

“Fate seems to have randomly dealt Masoud a terrible blow so can we find in our hearts a way to make perhaps one star in the night sky shine a little brighter?”

Edris and Fatemeh remain on bridging visas, last extended nine months ago by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

After lodging their first Carer (sub-class 836) visa application in March 2014 they are still waiting for the assignment of a “queue date” for a subsequent visa place to be made available, before further consideration can be given to their claims.

The department can offer no more details about their case.

“It’s a catch-22 situation, with no light at the end of the tunnel at this stage,” Mr Gordon said.

Edris Abdollahpouri

Anxious wait: Edris Abdollah Pouri says the family’s savings are drying up as they wait for a carer visa that would allow them to remain in Australia permanently. Photo: Mark Bowling

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