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Report Claims Duke Violated Transplant Laws

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DURHAM, N.C. — According to a published report, Duke University Medical Center violated national transplant rules when it accepted Jesica Santillan for a heart-and-lung transplant.

WRAL, meanwhile, has gotten conflicting information from the United Network For Organ Sharing on that issue.

Weeks ago, a UNOS spokesperson told WRAL that immigration status does not come into play in transplants. That's as long as hospitals limit their proceedures for non-residents to five percent of all transplants.

USA Today

reported Monday that UNOS -- the organization that oversees the nation's transplant system -- requires that nonresident organ recipients be in the country legally.

Santillan's family came into the country illegally from Mexico for the primary purpose of getting her a transplant.

Two weeks ago, three years after she came to the United States, 17-year-old Jesica died after two attempts at a heart-and-lung transplant in a span of two weeks.

The first transplant attempt failed when Jesica was given organs of a different blood type than her own.

Jesica's immigration status has increasingly become a topic of public discussion.

UNOS guidelines define eligible nonresident patients as any individual "granted permission by the United States Government to enter the United States on a temporary basis . . . for purposes which include tourism, business, education, medical care or temporary employment."

According to the

USA Today

report, transplant experts say the real issue is not whether a patient has a visa or green card, but whether or not the patient has an insurance card or can pay cash for the operation.

Santillan's family raised nearly $500,000 through local fundraising efforts in North Carolina.

Though Jesica's family was not granted permission to enter the US, family advocate Mack Mahoney said he filed for a work visa in 2001 on behalf of the Santillan family. But an immigration attorney told WRAL on Tuesday that processing for those applications typically runs more than two years.

As WRAL reported last week, the INS can use discretion in choosing who it goes after.

Despite the written definition of non-resident, a UNOS spokesperson said Tuesday that "we do not differentiate between whether a transplant patient has legal or illegal immigration status."

WRAL also spoke to Duke spokesman Richard Puff. Puff said said the duty of the hospital is to provide health care to all people, regardless of immigration status.

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