A victory for the undocumented sick, but hunger strikers still have tough days ahead

A victory for the undocumented sick, but hunger strikers still have tough days ahead

After a three-week hunger strike to pressure local hospitals to take undocumented loved ones onto organ transplant lists, finally a victory. But the war has not been won.

The good news is that Lorenzo Arroyo, 36, who like his brother Elfego, 38, suffers from a deadly liver disease cured only with a transplant, was placed on UIC's transplant list Monday night.

“We came into an agreement that University of Illinois Medical Center will offer the treatment needed to Lorenzo Arroyo, they also agree to continue the dialogue with us and with Rush Medical Center to address the issues of urgent medical care for those who can’t access medical care due to their immigration status,” said Father Jose Landaverde in a press release.

Because of his legal status, Lorenzo, and many other undocumented sick, have been refused a spot on transplant lists.

It's this situation that sparked the hunger strike, which began June 3, by four immigrant activists all of whom have loved ones in need of transplants, including a mother whose son needs a kidney transplant.

Lorenzo was one of the strikers, but he was forced to abandon the strike for medical reasons.

Discussions last year between Landaverde, who is also a hunger striker, and Rush University Medical Center, resulted in Elfego being put on the liver transplant list earlier this year.

On Monday, Landaverde met with Joe Garcia, vice president of health affairs at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System. And after about an hour of discussion, UIC agreed to take Lorenzo onto their transplant list.

The decision by UIC came a week after Landaverde and others organized a march to UIC urging help for their loved ones. See a photo slide show of their "Walk for Life" last Wednesday.

But the hunger strike that has so far seen three people hospitalized isn't going to stop until Jorge A. Mariscal also recieves treatment, says Hilda Burgos, one of the strikers, and pictured above.

Jorge, who needs a kidney transplant, continues to suffer from ailments related to his dialysis as negotiations drag on with several hospitals in Chicago, said Burgos.

After 17 days drinking only water, potassium drinks and coffee, Burgos looks tired as she walks around the cool interior of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Anglican Mission in Little Village. She stops to murmur a few words to one of the Arroyo brothers, or quickly make a plan for an organizing meeting with Landaverde, the priest at the church.

Despite her self-professed lack of energy, Burgos still discusses the continuing campaign to get Jorge on the transplant list with fervor, her small red peace sign earings glinting as she speaks rapidly and excitedly.

For the Arroyo brothers it was "more than a miracle" that they made it on the transplant list, she said. But "is it absolutely not fair, it's immoral" that Jorge is still waiting.

"We hope that the medical community will open their mind, their eyes, their heart, and take him on."

While being on the transplant list is a success for the Arroyo brothers, it contains few certainties. According to the University of California San Francisco, the average wait for a liver transplant can be up to three years.

But what is most important, says Burgos, is hope. Being on the list has given the Arroyo brothers and their family something to look forward to and the chance to "live with dignity."

Fernando, left, Lorenzo and Elfego Arroyo at the Mission of Guadalupe Church in Little Village. Photo by Yana Kunichoff.

"I don't feel sick, I don't feel extremely tired, but I feel... less," she says.

Fernando Arroyo, the 15-year-old son of Elfego Arroyo, told The Chicago Reporter, "I hope that my dad will be able to spend more time with us when he gets better."

This is what Burgos says she hopes to win for Jorge - more time to live.

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