Illegal Immigrant's Heart Transplant is Covered. Her Rent is Not.

In June, the Voice wrote about Julia Amparo-Alvarado, a 42-year-old illegal immigrant from Guatemala who faced death without a heart transplant. The mother of two was navigating a complex path of gaining insurance coverage despite her immigration status.

Three weeks ago, Julia managed to get fully covered through Medicaid for a heart transplant. Her insurance will cover the surgery, physical therapy, and even the cost of child care while she is recovering.

But it won't pay her rent. Julia tells the Voice that she's five months behind on her monthly payments for her tiny Greenpoint apartment -- she owes $5,120 on her $1,024-a-month rooms.

That has serious consequences for her health, it turns out. Stable housing is a requirement for a transplant. If she doesn't catch up on rent and finds herself evicted, her surgery could be cancelled.

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To help with the housing problem, Nora Castro in the Social Services department at Bellevue says Julia has been directed to an HRA-backed program called Family Eviction Prevention Support Program or F.E.P.S. It runs out of the Bayridge Brooklyn Center and helps low-income families with housing payments. But first, Julia will have to complete the application with a lawyer. Castro says the department has contacted Bellevue's Legal Health department to see if they can help her with representation.

"We are trying to alleviate the issue," says Julia's cardiologist Dr. Chad Kliger. "It's very important she has a stable living environment so she can have a stable heart transplant. The transplant requires having a stable, safe social environment and we need to work through it now. She has family she can fall back on in case, but it is something we need to think about."

Kliger says getting Julia insured was the hardest part. "I'm very happy how things have been progressing," he says. "She has insurance which is what we were striving for. We just have to work on this housing situation for her now. I mean the heart transplant is a slow and arduous process. Hopefully within the next couple months we can get the transplant going."

Three weeks ago, Julia was checked into the Emergency Room at Bellevue for stomach pains. Kliger says this is normal for end-stage heart failure. "She was checked in for heart failure exacerbation. Her heart is slowly getting weaker and weaker and she shows signs of shortness of breath and fluid overload. That fluid can back up into her lungs."

After her week-long stay at Bellevue she told the Voice that no date is set for her transfer to Columbia Medical Center. In the meantime she is still living in her Greenpoint apartment and trying to find a way to pay for her back rent, while taking her daily medications. She was touched to hear that some Voice readers had asked about helping.

"A thousand thank yous," she says in Spanish. "I really appreciate it. I don't think you know what you are doing and how much it helps me."


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