Immobile immigrant's dream comes true

NEW CITIZEN AT LAST

July 31, 1993|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,Staff Writer

Victor Blok's friends help him eat. They help him read. They help him move from his bed to his chair. Yesterday, again with help from his friends, Mr. Blok, who came to this country from Moscow, became a citizen of the United States.

The 47-year-old Baltimore resident has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a condition of the nervous system more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

It damages nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and causes them to disintegrate.

Because of ALS, Mr. Blok, a physicist by training, magazine editor by vocation, is unable to move at all except for one finger and his eyes.

That was all he needed, however, to excel at the examination -- 10 questions about United States history -- that an immigrant must pass before becoming a citizen.

Mr. Blok has lost none of his mental capacity to ALS.

He communicates through an elaborate system of software and hardware.

His mobile finger links him to a computerized beeper through which he answers simple questions: One beep for "yes," two for "no."

He also types with his eyes. A portable computer placed directly in front of his chair is able to translate eye movements into cursor movements on a computer screen. After typing his thoughts into the computer, Mr. Blok can command a synthesizer to speak them in nasal tones.

It is through this technology, and again with the help of his friends, that Mr. Blok is able to work as editor-in-chief of a Russian-language, bi-monthly magazine that is published in his home, a large white house on Park Heights Avenue.

A half-dozen friends -- some are former residents of the Soviet Union -- live here, banded together to give him round-the-clock care.

The ceremony there yesterday was a special occasion for them and for Mr. Blok, said Valery Price, a Johns Hopkins Hospital computer programmer and publisher of the magazine.

"He has been waiting 6 1/2 years, since he came here to this country. He has been studying."

Indeed, Mr. Blok whipped through his U.S. history questions without hesitation, said Gregory Collett, the INS examiner, who made a special trip to the house.

About 6,000 people are naturalized in Maryland each year; almost all take their citizenship tests at an INS office, then wait three to six months to be summoned to be sworn in as citizens en masse.

But, because of his medical condition and in response to a letter from his friends, Mr. Blok was granted one of the few INS house calls ever made.

And so at about 3 p.m. yesterday, everyone crowded into Mr. Blok's bedroom, where he was seated in a high-backed chair, surrounded by his computers and other machinery.

Ms. Carol Chasse, district director of the INS office in Maryland, took Mr. Blok's right hand in hers because he could not lift it himself. Then she read him the oath of citizenship.

"I do," came his answer via the synthesizer.

Applause and some cheering in Russian broke out among Mr. Blok's friends.

He typed: "I love this country. Her great history. Her unique Constitution. The spirit of freedom to be different. That is why I wanted to become her citizen."

"Are you happy about finally becoming a U.S. citizen?" someone asked.

"Beep." Pause. "Beep." Pause. "Beep," signaled Mr. Blok.

"Yes." "Yes." "Yes."

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