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Hunger strikers seek transplants for undocumented

Fri, Aug 30, 2013

An 10-day hunger strike on behalf of 14 undocumented and uninsured people who need organ transplants has ended with bittersweet results: one patient has died but strikers say another is in line to be evaluated for the surgery.

Hunger strikers occupy the public space in front of Christ Advocate Medical Center and refuse to leave on August 7. Photo: Moratorim on Deportations Campaign

Hunger strikers occupy the public space in front of Christ Advocate Medical Center and refuse to leave on August 7. Photo: Moratorim on Deportations Campaign

In response to the death of Sarai Rodriguez Friday, August 9, former hunger strikers and other supporters met Sunday afternoon, August 11 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission, 3442 W. 26th St. and marched to Northwestern Memorial Hospital at 201 E. Huron St. The marchers carried caskets with Rodriguez’s name and those of other patients needing transplants who have been denied. They said they intended to occupy the space in front of the hospital all night.

Meanwhile, the hunger strikers credit their action for getting one of the patients on their list an evaluation by the transplant team at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “I am very grateful that my husband will finally begin the process of evaluation for the transplant wait list,” said Maria Garnica. Father Jose Landaverde, leader of the hunger strikers, said that the husband is 40 and had been in the United States for 20 years, doing day labor.

Northwestern spokesperson Sheila Galloro said she could not confirm the transplant patient’s status because of HIPPA/ privacy issues. She said in a statement that all prospective candidates are evaluated against rigorous standards and that “U.S. citizenship is not among them. The criteria for recipient selection are the same for every candidate regardless or citizenship or other immigration status….Criteria include such things as medical and psychosocial factors like home life and social environment and the ability to meet the demands of a lifetime of routine doctor visits and costly anti-rejection medications.”

The hunger strike began July 29 and ended after meetings with the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern Memorial. Meetings were continuing with Christ Advocate Medical Center but Landaverde said the following had been agreed:

  • maintenance of communication with the 14 patients needing transplants
    no requirement for legal documentation for any patient accepted to be evaluated for transplant wait lists.
    no requirement for insurance for any patient who applies for the transplant wait list.
    communication with Dr. David Ansell, chief medical officer at Rush University Medical Center, who is leading the effort to create a round table along with other transplant teams from UIC, Northwestern Memorial and Loyola.
  • Ansell confirmed in an email to StreetWise that he is leading the effort to convene a round table of medical centers for transplants, which cost $100,000 to $200,000.

    “The goal is to hear from the community and see if we can work collectively as transplant centers to identify just solutions,” Ansell wrote. “There are a number of issues that make this a little more complicated for the uninsured, not the least is the need for lifelong immunosuppressive medications that can cost $10,000 to $30,000 per year.”

    Landaverde said in prepared material that the hunger strikers demand hospitals work together to establish a not-for-profit pharmacy that ensures affordable medication for wait-list patients before and after transplants.

    UIC Medical Center spokesperson Sherri McGinnis Gonzalez said that Landaverde met with Dr. Bryan Becker, MD about putting a round table together in the fall.

    Loyola University Health System Director of PR/Media Relations Anne Dillon also confirmed by email that a Loyola representative had participated in early discussions with other regional transplant centers. “We know that providing organ transplants for undocumented and uninsured patients is a complex problem that cannot be solved by any individual center.”

    Christ Advocate Medical Center Manager of Public Affairs Mike Maggio also issued a statement that said the hospital is a healing ministry that treats all patients equally. “Citizenship is not a requirement to be placed on the organ transplant donor list.”

    As of January 2014, roughly half a million uninsured Chicagoans will be eligible for public or private insurance through “Obamacare.” However, undocumented people are ineligible, which leaves 108,403 Chicagoans without coverage, according to the Illinois Health Matters report.

    Suzanne Hanney
    StreetWise Editor-In-Chief


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