With tears and mournful hugs, a 13-year-old boy from Mexico reunited in a Port Jefferson hospice room Tuesday with the mother he hadn't seen for six years.
Irvin Vega had just learned the news that his family had withheld: His mom is dying of colon cancer. Vega clutched his mother, Marta Perez Martinez, for 20 minutes, burying his head in her shoulder, sweating and shaking uncontrollably.
Perez had left her village in rural Mexico in 2004 to find work on Long Island. Irvin stayed behind with his grandparents. Her body now wracked by colon cancer, Perez was living out her dying wish to see Irvin one last time.
"Mama, I love you!" Irvin repeated as he held his mother, gaunt and dressed in a white hospital gown with blue stars.
"Forgive me, please, for abandoning you," his mother said in a soft voice. "I left you because I wanted to make a better life for you." The boy collapsed and a nurse gave him cold cloths and a drink of water.
His mother spoke haltingly. "You're so big - I didn't expect to see you all grown up."
After leaving Mexico, she paid $2,000 to smugglers who took her across the Texas-Mexico border and then to Long Island, her brother and cousin said.
Perez settled in Wyandanch, where she met a man from her hometown south of Mexico City. They married and had a daughter in 2008. During the pregnancy, Perez suffered severe stomach pains. About a year ago, during a visit to her doctor, Perez learned she had colon cancer. She soon found it had spread to other organs.
As her condition worsened in recent weeks, Perez asked to see her son, who had never flown on a plane or even traveled outside their village. Relatives contacted Janet Liotta, of La Casa Comunal, a community agency in Farmingdale. Liotta notified Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), who asked the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department to arrange a humanitarian visa.
Immigration agents were overwhelmed with visa requests from Haiti earthquake victims, but Israel's office kept pressing for a week, and the three-week visa was granted Monday.
"These are tragic circumstances, but I'm grateful to everyone who worked with us to help Irvin reunite with his mother to grant her dying wish," Israel said.
Family members pooled money to buy Irvin a ticket. Irvin, flying alone, was barred from going on a plane in Mexico City Monday night because of a paperwork mix-up, but one of Israel's aides called the U.S. consulate and insisted that the boy be allowed to board. After spending the night on a layover in northern Mexico, he arrived Tuesday afternoon.
"He's in shock - he doesn't really understand what's going on," said a cousin, Rodolfo Diaz Martinez of Farmingdale. He added that Irvin has known that his mother is sick, but no one told him she is near death.
Perez arrived by ambulance at the Good Shepherd Hospice in Port Jefferson at 2 p.m. Tuesday, after about a month at Stony Brook University Medical Center.
Perez told her brother Jesus, who lives in Wyandanch, that she expected to die before seeing her son. Tuesday night, the boy sat by his mother's bedside, crying. His uncle Jesus gripped his right shoulder while his uncle Angel gripped his left shoulder. A grief counselor told Irvin that his mother might not live more than another day or two.