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Medical limbo for illegal immigrant

Alejandro Escalona

Alejandro Escalona

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Updated: January 28, 2013 3:48PM

On Christmas Eve, Jorge Mariscal wanted to go shopping but couldn’t for fear of contracting an infection. Besides, he had already received a pretty wonderful gift.

“I got the best gift I could have ever wished for,” Jorge, who is 24 and lives in Melrose Park, told me.

A few weeks before, on Dec. 6, Jorge had undergone a kidney transplant. It likely saved his life. The donor was his own mother, Sonia Lopez.

I first met Sonia and Jorge back in November during a fund-raising event in Little Village to help cover Jorge’s medical expenses for the upcoming transplant. They were nervous but hopeful.

Sonia was running a walk-a-thon outside Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission church. She and others walked on treadmills placed on the sidewalk and invited passersby to participate and contribute. In the last three years, they have raised thousands through events such as this.

Jorge was just 16 when his kidneys failed. He went on dialysis and soon learned his only chance for long-term survival was a kidney transplant.

“From the beginning, I decided to be the donor,” Sonia told me. “As a mother, it is a blessing to be able to donate a part of my body to my son to save his life.”

But there was a major obstacle. Hospitals would not perform the transplant because Jorge does not have health insurance or access to federal funding because he is undocumented. Sonia had brought Jorge illegally from Mexico when he was one year old. He learned of his immigration status only while taking driver’s education in high school.

Jorge graduated from high school and went on to Triton College to study graphic design. He continued dialysis while he and his mother kept organizing fund-raiser events to pay his medical bills.

Then last June, the Rev. Jose Landaverde, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission church, organized a hunger strike, demanding that hospitals help Jorge and other patients in need of transplants regardless of their immigration status. Jorge’s mother and the relatives of other patients went on the hunger strike for 21 days. Loyola University Medical Center agreed to perform the transplant. But the agreement also calls for Jorge to pay for the medicines he must continue to take, which cost nearly $12,000 a year.

Jorge applied for private grants that would help pay for his first year of medical care. But covering the cost of long-term care remains a challenge for him without health insurance and access to federal aid.

Millions of undocumented people work and pay taxes. Most raise families and stay out of trouble. Some, like Jorge, get very sick or are hurt in accidents. As a country, we welcome them to perform the jobs we prefer not to do. But when they get seriously sick, many of us wish they would just go back to their country.

Next year, Jorge plans to go back to college and to apply for the Deferred Action Program, which grants qualified undocumented immigrants under age 31 a renewable two-year suspension from deportation and a work permit.

Jorge says he is grateful to God, his mother and his community for the gift of life. But he says he’s also grateful to this country he calls home.

As a nation, we have an obligation to assist the Jorges among us.

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