Fourteen people in need of kidney and liver transplants, along with family and friends, have been on a weeklong hunger strike, demanding a spot on a transplant waiting list, which they say they've been denied.
The men and women protested Monday outside Northwestern Memorial Hospital, some taking long breaks for dialysis. They said they've been denied a spot on the list because of their illegal residency in the country.
The Rev. Jose Landaverde of Our Lady of Guadalupe Anglican Catholic Mission said he has been organizing hunger strikes for three years and wants the hospital boards that offer transplants in the Chicago area to help people in the country illegally the transplants they need.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital released a statement Monday evening that said all prospective organ transplant candidates "are evaluated against a rigorous set of standards," which include medical and psychosocial factors such as home life and the ability to attend routine doctor visits and pay for costly anti-rejection medications — but not legal status.
"The criteria for recipient selection are the same for every candidate regardless of citizenship or other immigration status," the hospital said.
One expert said the problem might be more financial than political.
Anne Paschke, spokeswoman for the United Network for Organ Sharing, which manages the nation's organ transplant system, said being denied a spot on a waiting list by a hospital is often about money, not citizenship.
Many people in the United States illegally cannot afford the procedures, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, or the anti-rejection medications that run about $10,000 a year for the rest of their lives.
"A lot of times it doesn't matter if you're a citizen or if you're not a citizen, if you can't pay for it," Paschke said. "There aren't enough organs to go around, so it's very important that they make sure that there's a great likelihood that they could take care of it."
Landaverde said it was shameful that money plays a factor in whether those in need can get organs.
"We have people dying," the priest said. "It's a moral issue. It's immoral, putting money over people's lives."
With tear-filled eyes, Blanca Gomez, 23, one of the protesters, talked about how she wasn't put on a transplant waiting list when she went into kidney failure nine months ago. In 2012, 34 non-U.S. citizens received organ transplants in Illinois, compared with 1,026 citizens, according to data from the United Network for Organ Sharing.
Heriberto Balbuena, 35, has lost 10 pounds and missed out on work as a mechanic since the start of the strike. He said his mother needs a liver transplant but isn't on a list.
"She has a strict diet. She gets sick," Balbuena said. "She'll die without it."
Those who want to sign up to be organ donors may do so at ilsos.gov/organdonorregister.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun