Transplant Details Raise Cruel Questions


by Kimberley Jane Wilson

 

A New Visions Commentary paper published April 2003 by The National Center for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Ct., N.E., Washington, DC 20002, 202/543-4110, Fax 202-543-5975, E-Mail [email protected], Web http://www.nationalcenter.org. Reprints permitted provided source is credited.

You'd have to be made of granite to not be moved by Jessica Santillan's plight.

The sweet-faced 17-year-old weighed 85 pounds and suffered from a birth defect that left her heart and lungs unable to function properly. Her one chance at life was a transplant of the defective organs.

As anyone who followed this story knows, that chance was destroyed because the surgical team at Duke University Hospital gave her a heart and lungs that were not of her blood type. It led to her death. The hospital and her lead surgeon, Dr. James Jaggers, were remarkably up-front about accepting blame.

The family is expected to sue, and I expect no jury in America would fail to award them a fortune.

The media has treated this as a sad human-interest story. With the exception of syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin, however, no one has dug any deeper.

There are questions about the Santillan story that should be answered, but it appears the establishment media may think the questions are too cruel to ask.

I think the American public, especially those with sick and dying loved ones waiting for organ transplants, deserve answers. In particular:

* How did Jessica Santillan get to the top of the organ donation list? The Santillan family paid a "coyote" $5,000 to smuggle Jessica and her mother into the United States three years ago. We don't know how the rest of the family got here. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, there are over 80,000 Americans awaiting transplants. The average waiting time is about five years. Approximately 16 people die each day waiting for an available organ. Organs are allocated via a computer search that determines the sickest person on the list. Among all those waiting for hearts and lungs, how did Jessica get to the top of the list so quickly?

* Where did the second heart and lungs come from? After the botched transplant, a second set of organs was available within days. Doctors now admit that Jessica had brain damage when the second transplant was done. They maintain that the damage was reversible, but - as sick as this teenager was - the odds of success probably weren't too high. Did someone else die because they didn't get those organs?

* Who paid for the surgeries? We are told Jessica's surgery was 80 percent paid for by her mother's insurance company, and the rest of the money came from the charity set up in her name - Jessica's Hope Chest. We aren't told who was expected to pay for Jessica's post-operative care. Had the transplants succeeded, she still would take anti-rejection medication for the rest of her life. The cost of the medicine is typically more than $8,000 a year. Was the American taxpayer expected to pick up the cost?

* What is the legal status of the Santillan family? Jessica Santillan was apparently in the United States on a humanitarian visa, but her family's status is unclear. They apparently wanted to take their daughter's body back home to Mexico for burial, but feared not being able to get back into the United States. Deporting the family may seem harsh, but remember that the Immigration and Naturalization Service threatened foreign-born family members of September 11th attack victims with arrest and deportation only weeks after the deaths of their loved ones. Will the law be followed in this case or not?

* Is it true the Santillan family rejected requests to donate their daughter's organs? I have no doubt that, on the day authorities overrode the family's objections and removed the brain-dead teen from life support, her parents were in bad emotional shape. Asking them to donate Jessica's organs would have been a task I wouldn't have wanted. Yet, organ donation is the reason the Santillans came here. They asked for and received the gift of a second chance at life for their daughter. According to hospital officials, they refused to return the favor to another anxious family.

Right about now, someone is thinking that none of this stuff matters. A young girl is dead thanks to a careless mistake made by the very people who were supposed to save her. That's true, but think about all the people who died today waiting for an organ. They died without media attention, with hope in a system that is supposed to be fair and impartial.

So, here is one more cruel question: Was their faith betrayed?

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(Kimberley Jane Wilson serves on the National Advisory Council of the conservative African-American leadership network Project 21. She can be reached at [email protected].)


Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.

 

 


 

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