UC San Francisco Medical Center said Thursday that it is committed to providing an illegal immigrant from Oakland the kidney transplant he needs to live. The announcement followed the nationwide response to a story in this newspaper last week about the man's plight.
Jesus Navarro, a 35-year-old father, became the focus of a national "Save Jesus" campaign after it was reported that he might not receive the transplant because of his immigration status.
Navarro had been waiting for a kidney transplant for more than six years. He had private insurance to pay for the operation, and was nearing the top of the waiting list at UCSF.
But Navarro says administrators at UCSF, after learning about his immigration status in May, told him that the medical center could not provide the transplant because of uncertainty about whether he could afford follow-up care, including costly anti-rejection medications. His wife said she offered to donate her own kidney.
In its first public statement about its handling of Navarro's case, the medical center said Thursday that concerns about follow-up care have been addressed and there had been a miscommunication between administrators and Navarro over his eligibility for a transplant.
The announcement was met with joy from Navarro and his supporters. "I am very happy I will receive a transplant and be able to play with my daughter again," he said on his website.
The medical center said that it never decided to deny Navarro a transplant. Rather, his status on the waiting list had changed to "inactive" because of concerns that his immigration status might prevent him from receiving the needed care and medication after the transplant.
The change to inactive status meant Navarro "would not receive a transplant even if he reached the top (of the list) unless he had a reasonable coverage plan in place," according to the joint statement issued by UCSF on behalf of Navarro and the medical center's chief medical officer.
"Mr. Navarro has told UCSF that, to him, this meant he could not get a transplant until he resolved his immigration status; this was not what UCSF was trying to convey," the statement read.
The statement went on to say, "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 also said it referred Navarro to two community-assistance organizations that specialize in immigration issues.
While Navarro's waitlist status remains "inactive," a medical center spokeswoman said the center expects all remaining issues to be resolved in coming months. Navarro, who has a 3-year-old daughter, is high on the waiting list and could reach the top in three to six months, UCSF said. The donor would not be his wife.
UCSF's kidney transplant center is one of the largest in the world, and the medical center says it has performed more transplants than any other clinic in the country.
UCSF said in the statement it does not discriminate on the basis of immigration status.
Last week, Navarro's allies set up a website and Facebook page, established a Twitter hashtag and launched an online petition targeting the hospital, garnering 140,000 signatures from around the country.
Navarro, who is on dialysis, and an advocate met with UCSF administrators this week.
"They feel comfortable that we've come up with a good plan for aftercare," said Donald Kagan, a partner in a Berkeley technology firm who has become Navarro's chief advocate. He did not detail the plan.
Kagan received a kidney transplant himself at UCSF in 2010, and said he was never asked about his legal status.
His donor was a Nicaraguan immigrant who came to this country illegally and later gained citizenship.
Navarro said he did not seek out help from nonprofit organizations like the ones advocating for him now because he assumed that people would not care about his situation.
In January, Navarro was caught in an immigration audit and lost his job of 14 years at Berkeley's Pacific Steel. His supporters have arranged to have him keep his private insurance for at least 18 months.
Cesar Navarro, who moved to San Pablo from Minnesota to help his older brother when he fell ill seven years ago, described the national campaign as a "godsend."
Going forward, UCSF will ask all transplant candidates about their immigration status and help patients who are undocumented find a way to guarantee aftercare, spokeswoman Amy Pyle said.
"It's a wake-up call for us to find out that people aren't always following through," Pyle said.