Undocumented Status Blocking Mom’s Kidney Transplant, She Says

She undergoes dialysis multiple times a week.

ByABC News
November 11, 2015, 3:16 PM

— -- A mother of three with failing kidneys is trying to raise money so she can get a life-saving kidney transplant.

Socorro Neri Vergara, 42, had no idea her kidneys were failing until she went in for a routine physical two years ago, according to her husband Francisco Bautista. At the physical, doctors discovered that her blood pressure was alarmingly high and subsequent tests revealed she had severe kidney failure.

"It's very harsh medication," Bautista told ABC News. "She don't [have] time for cooking because she don't feel good."

This year her condition worsened and Vergara now goes for dialysis three times a week for hours at a time, according to Bautista. Vergara is not on a kidney transplant list despite her failing health.

As an undocumented immigrant, who arrived in the U.S. in 1998, Vergara has been able to get treatment and dialysis for her kidney failure under the federally-funded Emergency Medical Assistance program. The program, however, does not cover organ transplantation, leaving the family responsible for covering the cost of the procedure.

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the non-profit organization that manages the nation’s organ transplant system, allows undocumented immigrants to be eligible for organ transplantation. The organization said medical centers determine whether or not undocumented immigrants can be added to the transplant list.

"What does play a part is whether or not you can take an organ if you get it," explained UNOS spokeswoman Anne Paschke. "The transplant team, they’ll look at all of the medical and psychosocial things they learned about that patient during their work up."

Doctors will look at multiple factors before a transplant surgery, including if a patient can pay for further immune system-suppressing medication for the rest of their life, if they have a strong support system, and if they have been compliant with doctor's instructions in the past.

Paschke said no patient should be denied a spot on the list purely due to their immigration status, but said undocumented immigrants may face additional hurdles.

"Situations that arise from being an immigrant and not being able to pay can contribute [to not being listed,]" Paschke clarified. "It's individual for each person."

Using data from 2011, UNOS estimated a patient who undergoes a kidney transplant can face charges of approximately $262,900.

Bautista said the family is not giving up hope. They are currently attempting to raise money online and Bautista is consulting with lawyers to see if Vergara might be eligible for some other form of insurance coverage.

"The first day saw the specialist my file and the results gave me said it was in very poor health, which was very advanced disease and had 6 months to a year," Vergara said in a translated post on a fundraising website. "I was scared because I thought that my children are young and still need their mother so much."

Their three children ages 14, 13 and 7, were all born in the U.S. and are frustrated by the situation, according to their father.

"I worry for my daughter," Bautista said of his oldest child. She's "upset by the situation, it's very hard for her to understand why nobody wants to help us."

The St. Paul Dialysis of Davita, the dialysis center where Vergara has been treated in Minnesota, declined to comment citing federal privacy laws.