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Family Marks Santillan's 18th Birthday As Mother Awaits Mediation With Duke

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LOUISBURG, N.C. — Jesica Santillan would have turned 18 Friday. She died last February after an unsuccessful organ transplant at Duke University Hospital.

Santillan's family and friends celebrated her birthday as her mother prepared to go after Duke, which she blames for her daughter's death.

It is not every day a Mariachi band plays a birthday party at a cemetery. The band played Friday at Santillan's final resting place.

The Louisburg teenager died 10 months ago after her body rejected a transplanted heart and lung because the organs were the wrong blood type. Santillan's mother, Magdalena, said the band was her way of honoring her daughter.

"Eighteen years ago at this hour, I received my daughter, Jesica," Magdalena said through an interpreter at approximately 1:30 p.m. Friday. "Ever since she was 16 years old, she asked for a Mariachi band to play at her 18th birthday, and now I give her that gift."

Dozens of friends and family left flowers and notes. One friend read poetry.

"Don't grieve for me now; I'm free," Rita Mahoney read. "I'm following the path God laid for me."

While the day was about giving Jesica the 18th birthday she dreamed of, her family still worked on getting what they call justice for Jesica.

"She (Magdalena) said, as far as Duke is concerned, she would like to see them punished for killing her baby," family friend Mack Mahoney said. "That's word for word."

Magdalena holds Duke responsible for Jesica's death. She said she is going into mediation with Duke next month, when she will seek millions of dollars to settle her case -- a case that she hopes teaches Duke a painful lesson.

WRAL called Duke about the mediation. The hospital did not have anyone available to answer the station's questions.

Noticeably absent from Friday's graveside celebration was Jesica's father. He moved back to Mexico after separating from Magdalena.

In the months after Jesica's death, federal investigators found several problems at Duke. They cited issues related to surgery, nursing, and infection control.

The hospital said it has corrected the problems, including better documentation of medical orders. It also installed new equipment and updated employees on new procedures.

In addition, Duke University set up a $4 million fund to honor Jesica's memory.

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