A Mexican woman fears she could die if she boards a deportation flight out of Calgary as ordered by the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) because she's been warned the change in air pressure might cause her lung to collapse again.
Aida Castilla Romero says she's willing to go home to Monterrey, Mexico, but she wants to do so by land.
"I almost died, and if I'm alive it's because of God I think and I've been fighting for my lung and I know it's not subjective, my fear," she said.
Rare lung disease causes them to collapse
Romero, 46, arrived in Calgary on a work permit in mid-January 2009 to work at a printing and sign company.
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But it wasn't long before she began to have some serious medical problems. Her lung collapsed in 2010, sending her to the emergency department to have a surgical procedure that would re-inflate her lung. It collapsed two more times in a year before she had surgery to re-attach the lung.
In between her hospital visits, her work permit expired, along with her Alberta Health Care coverage. Romero applied for a permit extension but was denied. She then applied for status as a refugee, but was denied that, too. She was eventually ordered to leave the country.
She's been diagnosed with a rare disease called pulmonary endometriosis catamenial pneumothorax. It means that tissue from her pelvis migrates up to her lung, causing it to bleed and eventually collapse.
Romero says she didn't have access to a Calgary physician who understood her rare condition, so she sought medical advice back home.
One lung specialist advised against flying because he said it could cause her lung to collapse again. Another backed up that claim. Ever since, she has been fighting to defer her deportation flight.
"I'm really afraid because I know that it's not right," said Romero.
About six months ago, she sought the help of Calgary immigration lawyer Bjorn Harsanyi to try to negotiate a way for her to travel home by land.
"She thinks she's going to die if she gets on this plane, so she started begging me to help her and see what I can do," said Harsanyi.
Harsanyi failed to convince a federal court to allow her to travel by land. CBSA had a doctor look at her files and concluded she was fit to fly. However, Harsanyi did manage to arrange to have a nurse accompany her on the flight and to take a drug that's meant to help reduce some of the symptoms that might trigger a collapse.
Romero panicked as deportation date loomed
Her final removal date was set for this past Monday. But Harsanyi said as the date neared, Romero started to panic.
"She was progressively getting scareder, scareder. Whether it's objectively well founded or not, I'm not a doctor, I won't say whether she's at risk on that plane or not," said Harsanyi.
But in his concern for Romero, Harsanyi sent an email to CBSA and to Air Canada last Friday telling them about her increased fear and anxiety, and deteriorating mental state.
He says CBSA's response was to send two guards to her door, arrest her and put her in jail over the weekend. They feared she wouldn't get on her flight.
"These are bullies, plain, simple of the worse kind. This is the worse kind of abuse of authority that you can ever envision," said Harsanyi.
"I was hoping they would actually take a genuine look at finding a route back, that they could somehow accommodate this one peculiar circumstance."
Romero remained in the Calgary Remand Centre until Monday, when an adjudicator with the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada concluded she wasn't a flight risk. Now she awaits her next scheduled deportation flight.
"It was very bad, it was a horrible experience. But the worst part was the way they arrested me," said Romero. "She took me against the wall, like a criminal, and then send me to the jail, and my worry was not being able to communicate with my family."
Lawyer calls on CBSA to be humanitarian
Harsanyi says CBSA has not made a formal application on Romero's behalf for a visa, which would allow her to travel through the United States. But it is within their abilities. And he believes it's the humanitarian thing to do.
"Absolutely, absolutely, I would highly encourage CBSA, or who the powers that be, to look into whether she can travel by land, if that's still possible. It would have alleviated all the concerns," he said.
"She is not a criminal, she's not dangerous, she's previously a multiple-entry visa holder to the United States. There is no good reason that I can see as to why she would not be allowed to travel by land to Mexico, other than the inconvenience that may be associated with facilitating a removal in that manner."
But Romero says she will go home by plane because she has to.
"Why I afraid of flying, you have a collapse, not nurse, even not doctor can do nothing, you need a thoracotomy in a hospital," said Romero.
A thoracotomy is a surgical procedure that is used to help re-inflate the lung.
CBC News submitted several questions to the CBSA, at first last Friday, and once again on Monday, asking about the agency's detainment of Romero, and the potential for a land transfer home. But a spokesperson said the agency could not respond at this time.