What if?

What if?

A story in Tuesday’s Science Times caught our attention: A seemingly healthy girl from Ohio, on a trip to Israel with other teens (like so many of our own local teens), became deathly ill and was taken to Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem. As the Times reported, her symptoms were alarming – and mysterious. “[H]er liver, kidneys, and lungs were failing, and there were signs of damage to her heart. She was put on a respirator.

“‘She was basically dying,’ said her mother.”

It eventually was discovered that the girl, 16-year-old Jessa Perrin, suffered from a rare genetic disorder and that she “needed a liver transplant – fast,” wrote reporter Denise Grady. “She would not live more than a week without one.”

But despite outrageous accusations that Israel is a hotbed of organ-trafficking (see below), the chances of finding an available liver there in time to save Jessa’s life were dim.

While the frantic search went on in the United States for a suitable liver, the doctors at Hadassah managed to stabilize her long enough to live through an El Al flight – where she was placed in a specially set up intensive care unit, still on a respirator – to New York.

The ending is happy: Jessa was given a new liver – from a brain-dead 7-year-old in Tennessee – at New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. She does not appear to have suffered brain damage from her ordeal.

But one sentence in the story raised a red flag, a signal that Jessa’s life, so miraculously saved, could have been tragically lost: While searching for a liver for Jessa, Kara Ventura – described as a “a nurse practitioner and transplant coordinator” – “alerted the rest of the transplant team, including someone who would contact insurers to make sure the bills would be paid.”

And if there had been no insurers, if there had been no money, there would – very likely – have been no liver, and no Jessa.

What if she had been one of our own children, off for a summer in Israel with – as the Times reported – “a backpack, an iPod, and an air of independence”?

As our community joins the debate over health-care reform, it is important to remember that real people are desperate for it, as Jessa was desperate for her liver.