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Hunger strikers seek transplants for undocumented immigrants

'We’re asking for help' says BlancGomez 23 one about 40 people who gathered outside Northwestern Memorial Hospital Sunday call for

"We’re asking for help," says Blanca Gomez, 23, one of about 40 people who gathered outside Northwestern Memorial Hospital on Sunday to call for access to transplant procedures for undocumented immigrants. “I go to dialysis three times a week," says Gomez, one of 14 hunger strikers. "I’m not going off the hunger strike until I get on the transplant list.”

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Updated: September 6, 2013 6:19AM

Demanding access to organ transplant procedures for undocumented immigrants, a group of hunger strikers set up camp outside Northwestern Memorial Hospital on Sunday.

They said they would stay until hopsital CEO Dean Harrison agreed to a meeting.

The group of about 40 picketers included 14 people who were in the sixth day of a 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 care because they are denied federal health care because they’re not citizens.

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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