Activists rally for equal access to transplants for patients with HIV

Renee Lewis/Al Jazeera

By Renee Lewis / Al Jazeera America / Dec. 18, 2013

Lah-Nah Valentin watched as her 29-year-old husband was denied a lung transplant. The otherwise healthy Lamont Valentin had HIV, but with modern antiretrovirals the virus was undetectable in blood tests. Still with New York’s hospital guidelines regarding organ transplants, doctors had no choice but to refuse him a life-saving lung. Lamont died aboard a bus on Dec. 3 while returning from a doctor’s visit, leaving behind Lah-Nah and a two-year-old son.

Through her sobs, Lah-Nah Valentin told a New York crowd protesting the automatic disqualification of people with HIV for organ transplants on Wednesday: “If it weren’t for New York laws, he would be here now.”

Lamont’s death inspired around 100 people to rally in New York City on Wednesday to allow people with HIV to get organ transplants.

Protesters shouted: “He was a strong young man, and they told him to go die!”

Family and friends of Lamont gathered Wednesday night at Rockefeller Plaza near the site of the city’s famous Christmas tree holding a banner reading “No X-mas for Lamont.”

Since there are so few available organs, many transplant doctors consider it unethical to give them to people who are not likely to survive long.

Lung infections as a toddler had left Lamont with permanent damage that made him increasingly sick in recent years. But those close to him said he had the same immune system as a healthy person due to the antiretroviral medication he had been taking.

Friends describe Lamont Valentin as a hard-working man who never gave up and “always had a smile on his face.”

“Even in his condition, no matter what it was, he wanted to live. Normally in that situation, people feel they can’t go on, because they think ‘I’m going to die’ or ‘No one cares,’” Damon Beauford, a friend of Valentin, told Al Jazeera.

“In his last days, even when he had to have the oxygen tank with him all the time, he just went out in public and didn’t care what people would think … he wanted to change the laws — if not for him then for other people.”

Activists from the Occupy movement and Act Up, an AIDS advocacy group, joined the rally to protest against the guidelines denying organ transplants to people living with HIV, calling it outdated and unjust.

“Act up! Fight back! Fight AIDS!” They shouted to crowds taking photos in front of the festive Christmas tree.

Activists holding candles raised up photos of Valentin and sang revised Christmas carols to get the attention of passersby:

“Silent Night, Dreary Night, All is wrong, Nothing’s right. When young men like Lamont lose their life, Leaving behind a child and a wife. We demand Lamont’s Law,” they sang.

“Lamont never gave up,” Tiesha Brown, a friend of Valentin’s, said. Another friend, Aisha Humphreys, described him as “a very strong man who always stood his ground.”

The Valentin family said they will continue to advocate for equal access to transplants, hoping to introduce New York state law that would ensure that those with HIV are not automatically denied organ transplants.

Supporters recalled Lamont saying that if his struggle and death could introduce laws for future applicants, he knew his son would be proud and that gave him peace.

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