Transplants for illegals
igniting U.S. firestorm

By Joe Kovacs

Lauren Averitt has a few things in common with Jesica Santillan, the 17-year-old Mexican girl laid to rest this week following botched transplant surgery for new organs.

Lauren Averitt needs 2 new lungs

As did Jesica, Lauren needs a new set of lungs to survive. Born with cystic fibrosis, a disease without a cure, 28-year-old Lauren even shares the same blood type as her counterpart.

“It’s a struggle,” says Lauren. “Every day is different. Some days are better than others.”

What’s different about Lauren, though, is that no one smuggled her across the border to get her on a waiting list for new organs. She was born here in the United States in Wilmington, N.C., and now lives in South Carolina.

The significance of such a geographical disparity has sparked a firestorm of controversy across the continent, with many Americans venting outrage at how illegal aliens like Jesica are able to leapfrog ahead of the many thousands of U.S. citizens patiently waiting and praying for their own personal miracle.

“The insanity meter has finally been pegged,” writes Ben Powell of Northridge, Calif. He says while he felt badly for Jesica when she mistakenly received incompatible organs, his compassion dropped when he learned her parents paid a coyote $5,000 to illegally bring the girl into the U.S. in search of better medical care.

In a letter to the editor of WorldNetDaily, Powell wrote:

Knowing there is a scarcity of organs shouldn’t we take care of citizens of the U.S. first and foremost? I’m sure there are millions and millions of people on the planet who are in need of operations. But we have to face the cold reality that charity must first begin at home. America should not be seen as a giant game where if you just get here you are entitled to services. If we stop this madness and refuse to give any assistance except to citizens or legal immigrants, the flow would subside.

The worst thing I think that’s going to come out of this tragedy is that the surgeon and Duke Hospital will end up paying millions to the family who are still here illegally. Let’s stop at least this insanity now. Simply, no health care for illegals, regardless of what country they originate from.

Other Americans with similar outlooks are sounding off to their local print newspapers:

What a terrible tragedy that 17-year-old Jesica Santillan has died after an apparent mistake made during her heart-lung transplant surgery. We can only begin to imagine the pain of losing a child. Equally tragic, however, is that two sets of organs went to a person who entered our country illegally. Two American citizens or legal immigrants went without organs while an illegal alien got the transplant. To add insult to injury, Jesica’s family refused to donate any of her organs, which might have been used to save other young people. What a travesty! (Christopher A. Hooper, Virginia Beach, Va., to the Virginian-Pilot)

Jesica Santillan was smuggled into the U.S. for organ transplants

Jackie Mills of Raleigh, N.C., told the News & Observer she consented to be an organ donor, but is now reconsidering that decision, preferring her organs only go to U.S. citizens.

“I definitely would not want them to go to an illegal alien,” Mills said. “I don’t think they should be able to come in here and take our hospital and take our medicine and turn around and sue us. This girl was likely to die anyway. She took the organs from two different people [that] could have perhaps saved a healthier child.”

And columnists like WorldNetDaily’s Michelle Malkin are raising questions about the current and future status of Jesica’s family in America.

“Since Santillan did not recover from the second heart-lung transplant, will any federal immigration authority have the guts to enforce the law and send her family back home to Mexico?” Malkin asked.

Covering a Texas community loaded with Hispanic immigrants, the El Paso Times asked city residents if undocumented immigrants illegally in the U.S. should be given transplants. Some expressed strong support for providing for the medical needs of aliens.

“There’s a lot of immigrants that are in the States working for this country,” said registered nurse Virginia Chavez, “and also because my spiritual side, because we’re all human beings and we should lend a hand to others who are in need.”

On any given day, more than 80,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for a transplanted organ, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which admits it gets flooded with e-mail any time there’s a high-profile case like Jesica’s.

There were well over 24,000 transplants in the U.S. last year, averaging about 68 per day. UNOS says there’s a five-percent cap on transplants for non-resident aliens, but stresses the issue of citizenship is not a factor when getting onto the waiting list.

“Citizenship in no way comes into play in the allocation of organs,” UNOS spokesperson Anne Paschke told WorldNetDaily. “There’s no other social criteria. The system does not take into account where you’re from, how much money you make or even if you’re famous.”

She says federal statutes governing transplants specifically state organ policy needs to be based solely on “medical criteria.”

While the number of transplants has doubled since 1988 when only 12,440 organs were exchanged, Paschke says the number of people on the waiting list has grown even faster, creating a larger gap.

“It’s very sad,” she said. “It’s very important [for people] to make a decision about becoming a donor. Many die every day because people haven’t made a decision.”

Meanwhile, officials are continuing to review how Jesica received an organ with the wrong blood type.

“The entire transplant community is deeply touched by this recent tragedy,” said UNOS Vice President Russell Wiesner.

“The national transplant system relies on public trust. We want those awaiting transplants, and the public at large, to know that we are working with the federal government to do what is necessary to ensure that the proper policies and safeguards are in place so that the transplant system effectively meets the needs of transplant recipients.”

Back in South Carolina, Lauren Averitt is doing what she can to raise the $50,000 minimum needed to cover expenses should lungs for her become available. Only $16,000 has been collected thus far. She says she’s been ignored by her local paper in Charleston, but a website is now online, and she’s hoping potential donors across America find her.

Despite having the looks of a young glamour model, Lauren says if she ever gets new lungs, she’d like to complete her education to become a respiratory therapist.

“I have a cannula of oxygen up my nose,” she says. “People wonder ‘what did she do to herself?’ I look healthy otherwise, but it kind of freaks little kids out. It’s not much fun going out. I used to be more vain, now I have to be more humble and let a lot of things go.”

As far as the uproar over Jesica’s lack of citizenship is concerned, Lauren says “I really don’t think about the illegal or the smuggling part, but [the Santillan family] should not be able to sue.”

Still, Lauren empathizes with other transplant hopefuls who watched Jesica receive two sets of potentially life-saving organs.

“If I was at the top of the list, I’d probably be pissed, thinking those could have been my lungs.”

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Related links:

Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

United Network for Organ Sharing

Jesica’s Hope Chest, Inc.

Related column:

Rolling up the medical welcome mat