A University of Arizona student's path to becoming a U.S. citizen took an unusual turn last month when she was hospitalized on the day of her citizenship test.
Msimbi "SimSim" Kikuyu, 20, suffered a sudden stroke two weeks ago, underwent emergency brain surgery and was still recovering at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix on the day of her naturalization test. The test is the final step before taking the oath of citizenship.
Kikuyu's parents called U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Phoenix to say their daughter wouldn't be able to make her appointment because she'd just gone through surgery. But rather than reschedule Kikuyu, immigration officials took the rare step of sending an officer to the hospital.
"We do it when there is a humanitarian reason. We have done it in the past, but it has to be a pretty compelling reason," said Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman Marie Sebrechts.
Sebrechts said officials also recognized that Kikuyu's parents and younger sister were becoming U.S. citizens and would want to attend the oath ceremony as a family.
Kikuyu and her family, who live in Phoenix, are natives of Kenya who have been living in the U.S. since 1998.
The stroke was a complication of Kikuyu's severe sickle cell disease. Her younger sister also suffers from the disorder, which causes the red blood cells to become hard and sticky and look like a sickle, a C-shaped farm tool.
The sickle cells die early, which causes a constant shortage of red blood cells.
The Kikuyu sisters' sickle cell anemia requires them to have regular blood transfusions to maintain their red blood cells. They also take daily medication to reduce iron, which is often at high levels due to the transfusions.
Though she's had other minor health problems from the sickle cell disease, Kikuyu had never before suffered a stroke, which happens when sickle cells get stuck in a blood vessel and clog blood flow to the brain. Surgeons removed the blood that had leaked into her brain during the stroke to give her a better flow of oxygen.
When she awoke, Kikuyu thought she was still in Tucson and worried about missing a test at the UA, where she is studying for a career in the medical field. She dreams of becoming a physical or occupational therapist.
But her family quickly filled her in, and she was thrilled to learn the U.S. government would be paying her a visit.
Kikuyu had been studying for her citizenship test for three months and easily answered the U.S. history and government questions the officer asked. She is grateful that despite the stroke, she can still walk and talk.
Today Kikuyu will take her oath of citizenship at the Sandra Day O'Connor Federal Courthouse in Phoenix, standing alongside her parents and 15-year-old sister, Nissa.
"Becoming a citizen of the U.S opens up many great opportunities for us. We can vote, defend the country and have a say in what our leaders do in office," Kikuyu said Thursday. "Hopefully, it will open up new venues in which we can serve others as well. ... I'm sure we will all just feel overjoyed."
Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4134.