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Dying Mom Says Immigration Status Keeps Her Off Organ Transplant List

A 42-year-old mother of three in Minnesota says she's been denied a kidney transplant because she's not a legal U.S. citizen.

Socorro Neri Vergara, who lives in St. Paul, was diagnosed with failing kidneys after a routine medical check-up in 2013, the Statesman Tribune reported.

Vergara, who doesn't have health insurance, gets dialysis treatment three times a week thanks to the federally funded Emergency Medical Assistance program, but the program doesn't cover kidney transplants. Doctors initially told Vergara she had about a year to live, but it has been two years since her initial diagnosis.

Patients aren't denied organ transplants based on residency status, but the process of pairing a donor to a patient assesses a range of factors, including whether the patient can pay for immune system-suppressing medication, said Anne Paschke, a spokeswoman for the United Network for Organ Sharing.

“Situations that arise from being an immigrant and not being able to pay can contribute” to being denied a transplant, Paschke told CBS Minnesota. “It’s individual for each person."

More than 122,000 people in the U.S. need organ transplants, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Of those, 79,257 people are on the active waiting list for organs. U.S. doctors perform more than 20,000 transplants a year, health department statistics show, but every day 22 people on the waiting list die before they can receive transplants.

A computer system ensures that "strict standards are in place to ensure ethical and fair distribution of organs," according to UNOS. Medical urgency, blood type, tissue type and organ size are all factored when a donated organ is matched to a recipient, but doctors with transplant programs make decisions to accept individual people on a case-by-case basis, UNOS said.

Vergara came to the U.S. illegally in 1998, and married her husband, Francisco Bautista, in 2000. All three of her children — who range in age between 7 and 14 years old — were born in the U.S. and are citizens, CBS reported. The family told the network that their next option is to solicit donations in the hopes of raising enough money to pay for Vergara's medical bills.

“Because she wasn’t born here and she came illegally. That’s the reason why she can’t get it. I think it’s not fair just because she’s an immigrant,” Vergara's daughter, Michelle Bautista, told CBS.

Sources: UNOS, CBS Minnesota, The California Post / Photo credit: CBS Minnesota

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