Illegal Immigrant Gets Kidney

Michael Holtz, Chicago Tribune, December 9, 2012

As an illegal immigrant, Jorge Mariscal waited eight years for a kidney transplant he feared would never come.

His persistence paid off Thursday when he underwent the procedure at Loyola University Medical Center.

After years of uncertainties, Mariscal said he’s excited about his future and grateful for the help he received. But he remains frustrated with a health care system that he worries might leave out an untold number of illegal immigrants in need of lifesaving treatments.

“Why can’t we be treated the same?” he asked while sitting in his hospital room. “Health care should be a human right, not a privilege. At least give us the chance to fight for our lives with dignity.”

Mariscal’s treatment is far from over. The pills he’ll need to make sure his body doesn’t reject the new organ can cost upward of $10,000 a year for the rest of his life. And paying for those, just like the surgery, is complicated by his immigration status.

Although Loyola agreed to cover the costs of the transplant, Mariscal will have to pay for the medicine. He applied for a grant through the Simon Bolivar Foundation, a medical nonprofit, that would help cover his first year of anti-rejection pills. But without health insurance, he expects he’ll have to pay for most of his medication.

To get a head start on his future medical bills, Mariscal started raising money three years ago. Together with Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in Little Village, he has raised thousands of dollars through benefit concerts and other events.

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Aside from his help with fundraising, Landaverde organized a 21-day hunger strike in June against hospitals that denied transplants to patients because of their undocumented status.

Landaverde said that after the strike, in addition to Mariscal’s treatment at Loyola, the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center agreed to evaluate Lorenzo Arroyo, another illegal immigrant, for a possible liver transplant. Rush University Medical Center also placed Arroyo’s brother, Elfego, on a transplant waiting list. Both brothers suffer from primary amyloidosis, a genetic liver disease.

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Mariscal moved from Mexico to the U.S. when he was 1 year old. Now as a 24-year-old graphic-design student, he considers it his home.

He says he nearly returned to Mexico after doctors said he wouldn’t be able to receive a kidney transplant in the U.S. because he is undocumented. He first went on dialysis after he experienced renal failure at age 16. As his condition worsened, he knew only a transplant would help him feel better.

Now that his surgery is behind him, he said he’s happy he stayed stateside.

“It feels great to have a second opportunity at life,” Mariscal said. “It’s an overwhelming feeling. I don’t think I would have been happy in Mexico.”

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