Dying wish to become U.S. citizen granted

79-year-old naturalized after undergoing heart surgery

Heart patient 79-year-old Neki Seferi says his dying wish was to become a citizen of the United States.
Heart patient 79-year-old Neki Seferi says his dying wish was to become a citizen of the United States.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It was his dying wish to become a citizen of the United States.

Now, 79-year-old Neki Seferi is recovering in a Jacksonville hospital after undergoing heart surgery last week, and he can say he's officially part of "the land of the free."

Seferi was suffering from heart failure for several months, but his family said he wanted to do one more thing before he died.

Doctors gave Seferi a 50-50 shot at surviving surgery.

"I think becoming a citizen will save his life," Seferi's grandson, Ervin Seferi, said with a laugh.

He said his grandfather had two goals in life: Move to the United States and become a citizen.

"He was raised with the notion that America is a great country, and he believed that ever since he was in Albania," Ervin said.

Several years ago, Neki and his family moved from Albania to Jacksonville. Becoming a citizen proved a little tougher for him.

About a year ago, Neki contacted U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The process was delayed because of background checks, and the family was worried that Neki's heart wouldn't hold out long enough for him to realize his dream.

SLIDESHOW:  Albanian heart patient becomes citizen

Last week, just days after he underwent a heart bypass and valve replacement, immigration officers went to his hospital room in St. Vincent's Medical Center in Riverside and made his citizenship official.

"He was excited and he was trying to talk to us, but he was way too tired," Ervin said.

"He was trying to express his joy, and you know, it's very difficult when you have all these tubes," family attorney Ashwin Sharma said.

Sharma said USCIS sped up the process when it learned that Neki may not have much longer to live.

"It is not uncommon, however, it is rare," Sharma said. "I think perhaps a couple of times a year this type of situation happens, but the Immigration and Naturalization Act actually allows for some flexibility, especially when someone is dying."

Sharma said Neki remains at St. Vincent's recovering from the surgery and resting with the comfort knowing he is a legal citizen of the United States of America.