Laid-off Oakland worker back on eligibility list
For seven years, Jesus Gonzales Navarro has known that he will need a kidney transplant. But the 35-year-old Oakland father, who has lived and worked in the United States since 1996, has spent the better part of the last year thinking that the transplant was not going to happen.
"I was in the hospital when she told me that she wanted to marry me," Navarro said. "It was February when I was in the hospital, and we got married on Feb. 14." The civil marriage was followed by a church wedding at St. Anthony in Oakland. They are the parents of Karen Jacquelin, 3, who was born in Oakland.
Navarro, a welder employed at Pacific Steel in Berkeley, had health insurance that covered his needs — which for the last six years have involved dialysis. He connected to the machine that sits in his living room at 4 p.m. and disconnected at 2 a.m., then went to work from 5:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
"I'm tired of this but this machine helps me to be alive so I have to deal with it," Navarro said in an interview. "I don't have any other choice but a transplant."
But he left a pre-transplant meeting in May 2011 at the University of California San Francisco with the sense that he would not be able to receive a kidney because he is not a legal resident of the United States. He said it was the first time anyone had asked him about his immigration status.
"Why did they never tell me about the issue with my immigration papers six years ago?" he asked. "At least I could be prepared, but they never told me about this."
Matters became worse in December when Navarro became one of 200 workers who lost their jobs in January at Pacific Steel, after an immigration audit, said the Rev. Deborah Lee, of the Interfaith Immigrant Rights Project, which has been providing assistance to the fired workers. Navarro had worked there for 14 years.
"They said that because I'm undocumented it will be very difficult for me to afford the medicines to keep my kidney healthy after the transplant," he said after a Feb. 6 phone call from UCSF.
UCSF representatives met with Navarro on Feb. 7 to clarify that he remains on the transplant list. According to the medical center, he is expected to reach the top of the transplant list in three to six months.
Whether he receives the transplant, however, will depend in part on whether he is likely to be able to receive the follow-up care and medication required for him to remain healthy after the transplant.
The American Kidney Fund is picking up the cost of his health insurance, said Donald Kagan, a Berkeley businessman who is a kidney transplant recipient himself. Kagan became interested in Navarro's situation and has provided assistance to him.
According to its website, the American Kidney Fund provided assistance to 101,000 people — 1 out of every 4 U.S. dialysis patients in 2010 —for health insurance premiums and other treatment-related expenses that insurance does not cover.
Navarro said his wife, who works in retail, has the same blood type, and has offered to donate a kidney.
Navarro, who is from Jalisco, Guadalajara, Mexico, said he left his country when he was 19 looking for a better life back in 1996. Returning to Mexico now is not an option for him. "I know people who have died in Mexico because they didn't get the appropriate medical assistance," he said.
Navarro's case illustrates the difficulties undocumented workers encounter in health care.
"UCSF is committed to helping Jesus Navarro and all kidney transplant candidates achieve their goal of a kidney transplant," the hospital said in a statement attributed to Navarro and Dr. Josh Adler, chief medical officer.
The statement said a plan had been developed to help secure medical care through the transplant and beyond. It also addressed the misunderstanding that left Navarro believing his immigration status had cost him a chance to save his life.
"UCSF regrets the misunderstanding and is committed to reviewing its processes to make sure that communication is consistent and clear with all patients, including Mr. Navarro. UCSF does not and will not discriminate on the basis of immigration status," according to the statement.
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