Dying mother says army refused to let her son come home

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The Independent US

With maybe just weeks to live, Patrice Confer is driven by one overriding wish - that she survives long enough to see her son serving in Iraq.

Two weeks ago doctors told Mrs Confer that she had advanced pancreatic cancer and only a very limited chance of recovery. Her thoughts turned to spending her remaining time with her husband and children - a son and a teenage daughter who lived at home, and her 19-year-old son, Joseph Wagner, serving with the army's 1st Infantry Division in Iraq.

Mrs Confer had hoped that her son could return from the war zone to see her. Instead she has been told that the army denied her request because only troops whose relatives have less than 30 days to live are allowed home.

"I want to spend some quality time with him," she said yesterday, speaking from her home in Altoona, Wisconsin. "I don't want to wait until I am not well enough to see him. I'll do anything to get him back."

Doctors say that Mrs Confer, 44, may indeed have no more than 30 days to live. A letter written by her oncologist, Dean Delmastro, which has been forwarded to the army, says: "Given the very poor prognosis of any improvement in her condition, the patient's life expectancy may certainly be on the order of 30 days or less. However, an exact testament to this simply cannot be provided."

Mrs Confer said her son is serving in Tikrit, where he had reported in recent letters to the family that things were getting "bad". After getting news of her illness from the Red Cross, he telephoned her at the clinic where she was being treated. "We were both just crying and crying," said Mrs Confer. "It was so hard for him to hear that and not be here. It's hard for him. He is worried to death about whether I am OK, and [about] other members of the family. It is bad because it is dangerous enough there as it is [without his mind on other things.]"

Bobbi Giles, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross, confirmed to reporters that the army had denied Private Wagner's request for leave. She said the organisation had submitted a second request with the doctor's note attached.

She told The New York Times: "We used to get responses in 48 hours but with the situation as it is in Iraq, now you never know."

Mrs Confer's plight has gripped the small town in north-west Wisconsin, home to just 7,000 people. Greg Fharman, superintendent at Altoona High School, where Pte Wagner was a student, said people were thinking of the family in their prayers.

"I believe this will be resolved. I believe they are making progress," he said.

Mrs Confer said she was determined to see her son again.

Master Sergeant Robert Cowens, a spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division, said yesterday that Mr Wagner had initially not realised the seriousness of his mother's condition and had decided to wait until May before he returned home. He said he had never been refused leave by the army authorities - an account that clashes with the information provided by Mrs Confer and the Red Cross. He said, however, that the army was seeking to get Pte Wagner back to Wisconsin as soon as possible. He said: "We're working to get him out on emergency leave."