HEALTH

Hunger Strike Continues For Undocumented Immigrants Needing Organ Transplants

Monday marks the seventh day of a hunger strike for protesters demanding access to organ transplants for undocumented immigrants at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

There were about 40 picketers in front of the hospital on Sunday, including the 14 people on the hunger strike.

"We're asking for help," said Blanca Gomez, 23, who needs a kidney transplant. "I go to dialysis three times a week. I'm not going off the hunger strike until I get on the transplant list."

Gomez said she had lost four pounds and was surviving on water and Gatorade.

The group said 14 undocumented Mexican immigrants who live in the Chicago area need either a liver or kidney transplant. But they can't afford it because they are denied federal health care. They are not U.S. citizens.

The protesters said they would stay until Northwestern Memorial CEO Dean Harrison agrees to a meeting.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital is one of the only hospitals in the region to offer live donor liver transplants.

On Sunday afternoon, a spokesman for Northwestern Memorial Hospital was not able to provide answers about Northwestern's transplant policies.

The situation boils down to a moral and ethical dilemma, said Dr. David Ansell, chief medical officer at Rush University Medical Center.

"One the one hand, the intent of the national transplant registry is to base transplants on who needs them most, but there are indeed a whole group of people who find themselves shut out," he said. "And these are people who are uninsurable, and it creates an ethical dilemma of doing the right thing against the extreme cost of doing a transplant."

An average kidney transplant can cost between $100,000 and $200,000, Ansell said. The care needed before and after surgery, in addition to medication, can cost tens of thousands more.

"These are people who contribute to the community. The answer can't be no access, but it's going to require calling together all the transplant centers in the region, as well as politicians and members of the community to find an equitable solution," Ansell said. "The other thing to note is that 20 percent of organs come from uninsured people, but around 1 percent of organs go to uninsured people who need them. These people donate the organs, but mostly don't get access to them."

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