PORTLAND, Ore. -- Oregon Heath & Science University has terminated a policy that had prevented an undocumented mother of four from being considered for a liver transplant.
On Monday, Silvia Lesama-Santos, 46, received a letter from OHSU denying her care because of her undocumented status.
Lesama-Santos, a stay-at-home mother of four children, has lived in the Portland area for 30 years.
"My mother's only chance at survival is to receive a liver transplant, but OHSU has denied her because she is undocumented," said her son, Ivan Gonzalez Lesama, earlier Tuesday. "They won't even let her get on the waiting list while we look for another hospital who will help her."
Mat dos Santos, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon (ACLU of Oregon), helped the family organize a Tuesday evening press conference that pressured the hospital to change its policy.
He said he believed that medical institutions have an ethical obligation to treat people fairly.
The hospital said in a statement late Tuesday night:
It was brought to our attention this evening that an archaic transplant policy was preventing an undocumented individual from being evaluated at OHSU. Upon learning of the policy, OHSU leaders acted immediately and terminated the policy. We deeply regret the pain this has caused the family.
OHSU is committed to serving our entire community -- all are welcome at OHSU, and this policy does not reflect our values.
The OHSU transplant team is informing the family of our change in policy tonight. OHSU’s legal team has begun a system-wide audit to ensure no other such policies exist.
On Thursday, the family spoke for the first time since OHSU’s decision. The family said they are grateful for the policy change, because now Sylvia is on the transplant list.
“She’s a loving caring mother of four. She’s very involved in the community. She loves to go to church. She’s really amazing,” said Ivan Gonzalez, Sylvia’s oldest son.
The problem is Sylvia’s family said she has been dealing with liver failure for about six years now and because it took the hospital two to three weeks to reverse its policy, she's weak. They said she’s so weak she might not be able to receive a liver transplant.
“If you guys could please continue to pray for my mom,” Gonzalez requested.
While Sylvia’s family members wait, they said they’re glad other families won’t face the same situation.
“My family is comforted to know that our struggle means that no other family will have to face this cruel policy anymore,” said Gonzalez.
But the hospital's policy reversal has some questioning organ transplant policies for undocumented immigrants as a whole.
“U.S. citizens are our first and foremost responsibility. Transplant organs don’t grow on trees. They’re finite in number. They should go to people who are here legally, not illegally,” said Richard LaMountain, with Oregonians for Immigration Reform.
LaMountain said he’s not heartless. He said hospitals should treat anyone who needs help. But when it comes to organ transplants, he said people living in the United States legally should get priority.
Others who say they generally agree that U.S. citizens should get higher priority for a transplant, say this case is different.
“I’d have to say yes the citizen should get a transplant before an illegal, but in this case, she’s been here for 30 years. So I think they need to do everything they can to save this woman’s life,” said Steve Capka, who is a Sherwood resident.
Mat Dos Santos with the ACLU said federal statistics show undocumented people donate 200-350 percent more organs than they actually receive.
Representatives from both Legacy and Providence, said they will treat anyone who needs help regardless of legal status.