After an undocumented woman was denied an organ transplant due to her immigration status, the Oregon Health & Sciences University reconsidered their policy on immigration status.
Silvia Lesama-Santos, 46, has lived in Portland for over thirty years. She applied for a liver transplant from OSHU, as her liver failure had put her in “critical condition.” On February 5th, OHSU’s Transplant Services sent her a letter saying that the university had denied an organ transplant because the administration “requires proof of lawful presence for transplant services,” and that she could restart the application process “when your situation has changed and you meet the above requirements.”
On February 6th, the American Civil Liberties Union released a statement condemning OSHU’s denial of care. Andrea Williams, the executive director of immigrant rights group Causa Oregon, said that their decision was “effectively a death sentence.” Williams said. The ACLU also released a quote from one of Lesama-Santos’ four children, Ivan Santos: “My mother’s only chance at survival is to receive a liver transplant, but OHSU has denied her because she is undocumented. They won’t even let her get on the waiting list while we look for another hospital who will help her.”
On the same day as the release, OSHU reversed its policy. “It was brought to our attention this evening that an archaic transplant policy was preventing an undocumented individual from being evaluated at OHSU,” their press release said. Upon learning of the policy, OHSU leaders acted immediately and terminated the policy. They finished with a statement saying that the university is “committed to serving our entire community,” and that their legal team is auditing their policies to make sure that there are no other rules like it.
The ACLU still plans to petition all of Oregon’s hospitals to change “any policy that denies patients access to organ transplants based on their immigration status.” The petition, found on the organization’s website, continues: “It is inhumane and cruel to deny care to undocumented members of our community. This is an unfair practice that goes against our values as Oregonians. We expect all of Oregon’s medical institutions to treat all people in need of life-saving care fairly and with dignity and compassion.” As of publication, it is unclear whether the outcry about Lesama-Santos’ case will translate into statewide change.
Lesama-Santos and her family were informed about the change in policy, and she is in care. But the wait for a new liver has rendered her too ill for an immediate transplant. She had been in need of treatment for six years but hadn’t been able to get it previously because of a lack of insurance. “Because she has waited so long for her treatment, her health has seriously deteriorated,” Ivan Gonzales said in an ACLU press conference on February 8th.
Ivan has set up a GoFundMe page to cover the family’s medical expenses. As of publication, the campaign has raised over $6,000 towards their $10,000 goal. The family hopes that Lesama-Santos will recover enough to receive a liver transplant, and the ACLU said that she was a “perfect candidate” for a liver transplant if she does.
Her family is extremely relieved that she is finally receiving care. “We started in the end stages of it this past couple of weeks, and to know there might be some light at the end of the road is a good thought,” Ivan said, during the ACLU press conference. “She’s a loving, caring mother of four. She’s very involved in the community – loves to go to church. She’s amazing.”
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