The Ugly Side of Illegal Organ Trade | Risky Business for the Well to Do and the Not so Fortunate

Desperate Americans Buy Kidneys From Peru Poor


Michael Smith|Bloomberg

Luis Picado’s mother remembers the day her son thought he had won the lottery. He came home to their tin-roofed cinder-block house in a Managua, Nicaragua, slum and said he’d found a way to escape poverty and start a new life in the United States.

An American man had promised to give Picado, a 23-year-old high school dropout who worked as a construction laborer, a job and an apartment in New York if he’d donate one of his kidneys. He jumped at the deal, his mother says.

Three weeks later, in May 2009, Picado came out of surgery at Managua’s Military Hospital, bleeding internally from the artery doctors had severed to remove his kidney, according to medical records. His mother, Elizabeth Tercero, got on her knees next to her son’s bed in the recovery room and prayed, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its June issue.

“I told my boy not to worry, that I would take care of him,” Tercero, 49, says. “But it was too late.” Picado bled to death as doctors tried to save him, according to a coroner’s report. “He was always chasing the American dream, and finally, it cost him his life,” she says.

Matthew Ryan, the American man, suffered a similar fate. Ryan, a 68-year-old retired bus company supervisor in New York, died two months after receiving Picado’s kidney in the same hospital.

Nicaraguan postmortem reports cited the transplant as a cause of death for both men. Prosecutors in Managua are now investigating whether anyone broke a Nicaraguan law that prohibits paying a donor for an organ.

Illicit Market

The two men were participants in a growing and illicit market for organ transplants that spans the globe. Every year, about 5,000 gravely ill people from countries including the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia pay others to donate an organ, says Francis Delmonico, a Harvard Medical School professor and surgeon. The practice is illegal in every country except Iran, Delmonico says.

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