Girl lived 13 years, became a symbol

27.Jan.02,  first published by Chicago Tribune: read the original article here.

Samira Ocampo lived most of her 13 years anonymously. But by the time the Waukegan girl died last week of complications from leukemia, her struggle for medical care had transformed her into a fighter for the rights of illegal immigrants.

Samira's stature and symbolic importance to immigrants were evident at her funeral mass Friday, as more than 250 mourners packed Mision Juan Diego in Palatine, including many who never had met the girl or her family.

"I think this shows that Samira touched a lot of hearts," said her cousin Maribel Reyes. "They knew that she was fighting not only this disease but for other children and for illegal immigrants everywhere."

Chicago's Latino community had followed closely as Samira and two other children, Ana Esparza and Jesus Ramirez, pursued life-saving transplants, although their illegal status made them ineligible for Medicaid. The children took their cases to the highest levels of the U.S. and Mexican governments.

Community leaders championed the children's cases last summer; their faces were ubiquitous on posters at political rallies, donation cans in shops and local newscasts. They even met with Mexican President Vicente Fox when he visited Chicago last summer. All three found hospitals to offer transplants after supporters raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Emergency medical care and services must be provided to undocumented people, but the law does not cover transplants. Samira and the two other children joined community leaders in a group called La Alianza, or the Alliance, to push Congress to change the law.

After her plight became well-known, Samira received a stem-cell transplant at Children's Memorial Hospital on Dec. 12 and seemed to be recovering. But last week she developed a fatal case of pneumonia, a common side effect of transplants.

"A lot of people look down on immigrants or want to blame us for everything," said Joe Cisneros of Wheeling, a naturalized citizen who attended the mass even though he did not know the Ocampos. "But this girl gave all the unknown immigrants a name and a face. She represented all of us very well."

Samira's loved ones were well-represented, too. A busload of classmates from Daniel Webster Middle School in Waukegan arrived, teary-eyed and clutching flowers. Members of a clown troupe who had befriended Samira during a fundraiser joined relatives as pallbearers.

Rev. Gregory May told mourners that they could find comfort in how Samira transcended her health struggle, even as her life was cut short.

"She was a great example," he said. "Samira's way of looking at life, her struggle to truly live and enjoy the dreams that any young person would have--that is not destroyed by death."