Lucia nearly dies every Monday, and she does it on purpose. An undocumented immigrant, the 51-year-old isn't allowed to receive normal Medicare or Medicaid for her end-stage renal disease and waits until she's almost dead to admit herself into emergency care at Denver Health Medical Center, KDVR reports. More than 650,000 American adults have the same condition and usually receive regular kidney dialysis, but Lucia—who is keeping her last name secret over immigration concerns—holds off until she's nauseated and barely breathing to guarantee hospital admission. Then, Denver doctors take care of her under a 1986 law that prohibits hospitals from turning away anyone on the verge of death.
Without functioning kidneys or regular dialysis, fluid and toxins build up dangerously in Lucia's system; she even has to measure her water intake during the week. "It's been really hard for my family," says the mother of five. "The worst is for my son. … He worries about me." A 2007 study showed it was 3.7 times pricier for a hospital to treat undocumented immigrants with emergency-only hemodialysis, per US News & World Report—and states including New York, California, and North Carolina have implemented standard dialysis treatment for them—but that changes nothing for Lucia. "I just want care to change so badly," says one of her doctors, near tears. "I can do all the research, but it's not until people actually listen … [that] access can finally change." (Read more dialysis stories.)