An Immigrant's Heart

07/06/2010 03:42 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The issue of immigration is more polarizing than ever. When it comes to health care, the emotions flare even higher. I've written a lot about my immigrant patients and medical issues. Online comments to these articles have tended to be extremely vitriolic, especially when I've written about my patients who are undocumented.

It was heartening, the other day, to open the newspaper and see a full-page ad from the Carnegie Corporation. It was a July 4th salute, entitled: "Immigrants: The Pride of America."

As a physician, my job is I take care of all my patients. Where they come from, what they do, etc, is not part of the question. Working in an urban hospital in New York City, my patients tend to be immigrants. In fact, that is one of the most interesting and inspiring parts of my job. I am always learning from my patients, especially from those who come from different backgrounds and offer different perspectives on our world.

My newest book -- Medicine in Translation: Journeys with my Patients -- focuses on my experiences with my immigrant patients (and also my own year of living with my family in a foreign country).

One of my patients, Julia B., is highlighted in the book. She is a young woman from Guatemala--undocumented--who needs a heart transplant. It is unlikely that she'll ever get it, because she lacks papers. I'm well aware that there's not a lot of public sympathy for someone who came to America illegally.

But when illegal immigrants die in America, their families often graciously bequeath their organs for donation. Many Americans are alive because of the generously of undocumented immigrants.

Julia B is the focus of a cover story called "An Immigrant's Heart" (by Shefali Kulkarni) in this week's Village Voice. Get to know her and see what you think.


Danielle Ofri is a writer and practicing internist at New York City's Bellevue Hospital. She is the editor-in-chief of the Bellevue Literary Review. Her newest book is Medicine in Translation: Journeys with my Patients.

View the YouTube book trailer.

You can follow Danielle on Twitter and Facebook, or visit her homepage.