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Faith complicates a young mother's life-or-death decision on lung transplant

Her children, schooled by the Jehovah's Witnesses, told her they'd be sad if she died but were proud of her for following her faith.

Perez feared less for her eternal life than that God would punish her by taking her life if she went ahead with the transplant. "I was worried God wouldn't let me live after the operation," she said. Three days later, Perez told Lorenzo she'd changed her mind.

"I began to think how much I loved my children, these marvelous gifts from God," she explained, gulping for air as tears rolled down her face. "God loves. He does not demand that we follow rules. The rules are ours." Her heart told her that God wanted her to choose life.

Perez no longer talks to Jehovah's Witnesses, nor they to her. It is hard, she said. They are like her family. But the religion "disfellowships," or excommunicates, members who disobey its teachings. Contacted by a reporter and asked about Perez, a member of her congregation said, "She is not a Jehovah's Witness," and hung up.

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Now, Lorenzo said, it is as if they are approaching the door to the future with the key in their hand, ready to turn the lock. Perez, who has difficulty walking into the next room, must once more travel to Pittsburgh to sign a new directive, permitting doctors to use blood during her operation. But first, Kaiser doctors now say she must regain the 14 pounds her already-thin frame has lost since she got out of the hospital. The transplant doctors want to know how she will pay for medical care once her insurance expires. She doesn't know but hopes that in Peru, it will be cheaper.

She is still not used to the bustle of activity in the small apartment after so long in a lonely hospital room. Her son, Jason, a fourth-grader, wanders in to tell about his day before running to the living room to play a computer game. Lorenzo shuffles through the endless paperwork that grows out of a serious illness. And her daughter, Diana, sings her a new pop song, holding the handle of her mother's portable oxygen tank like a rock star's microphone. The two giggle. They pinkie-swear on a secret that they promise to talk more about later, once the lights are out, when they will drift off to sleep, together.

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