2016 The David Teeuwen Student Journalism Award, Small Newsroom finalist

Transplanted: Undocumented Immigrants with Terminal Kidney Failure


Noelia González, Brett Murphy, Jieqian Zhang

UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism

The David Teeuwen Student Journalism Award, Small Newsroom


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About the Project

Transplanted: How undocumented immigrants with terminal kidney failure fight to navigate the American health care system.

The project tells the story of five kidney patients: three of whom are undocumented Mexicans, one who just received citizenship, and one American, all based in California. It covers how they navigate the organ transplant system and interact with each other, illustrating the disparate outcomes influenced, in part, by immigration status.

There are no written rules that expressly disadvantage immigrants. But lack of health care access, education, and a means of payment have created cracks in the system where the most vulnerable often fall. The undocumented are 27 percent more likely to suffer from end-stage kidney disease than their American neighbors.

There are an estimated 11.3 million undocumented people in the U.S., and about 4 million are without health insurance. Most work in low-paying, insecure jobs that don’t offer coverage — and they don’t typically qualify for Medicare. A disproportionate number of undocumented die every day while waiting to get on organ transplant lists because medical centers often deem them “economically infeasible.”

The project also includes the perspective of the organizations among the health care system. Some of them are directly involved in the kidney allocation system, such as the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) and the transplant center at University of California San Francisco Medical Center (UCSF). We also interviewed representatives of other health organizations, such us La Clínica de la Raza and the dialysis center DaVita.

It’s a news media package in English and Spanish that consists of:
  • a 2:30 teaser video that introduces the story’s main characters
  • 4,500 words, broken up into four chapters
  • an animated video that explains how the kidney allocation system in the U.S. works
  • four additional videos, about 2:30 each, which profile three of the characters, and the three of them all together
  • several mini-video interviews, around :20 each, of the most powerful quotes
  • a portfolio of illustrations

The project was done throughout eight months (September, 2015 – May, 2016) that involved pre-reporting, reporting, interviews in person and over the phone, filming, video editing, writing, illustrating, coding and translation.