Hospital reverses decision to deny teen heart transplant after media backlash

GEORGIA – A children’s hospital in Atlanta has reversed its decision to deny a dying African-American teenager the opportunity to receive a life-saving heart transplant.

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, the only facility in Georgia that does pediatric transplants, initially ruled that 15-year-old Anthony Stokes was ineligible to be on the waiting list because of a history of “non-compliance.”

Though, family and friends were completely mystified as to what criteria doctors used to come to that conclusion. Speaking to theGrio from her son’s hospital bedside, Melencia Hamilton said Stokes did not have a medical history to establish non-compliance.

“He has taken everything [medication] they have given him,” she said. “I don’t know why they crossed him off like that. They just said it was non-compliance.”

In fact, up until last month Stokes was a normal, healthy and active teenager. Three weeks ago he complained of shortness of breath and chest pains, was diagnosed with an enlarged heart and has been fighting for survival ever since.

“He has had no past medical history,” said Stokes’ mentor, Mack Major. “He didn’t even know he was sick until he was diagnosed with the heart condition two to three weeks ago. He has been in hospital ever since.”

His mom suspects his low grades at school and brushes with the law influenced medical practitioners to conclude he would be a poor candidate to keep up with pre-care treatment.

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta made the sudden U-turn late Monday, after the story, which made national headlines, set the Internet and social networking sites ablaze.

Family spokesman Mark Bell told NBC News that hospital officials said Stokes was now a candidate for a donor heart. According to reports, Bell was told the teenager would be placed on the list for a heart transplant and that he would be first in line because of his weakened heart condition.

Bell adds they did not offer a reason as to why they changed their minds.

In a watered-down statement released after the reversal the hospital said it was still working with the family. “As we stated previously, a heart transplant evaluation is an ongoing process based on the patient and his or her family’s ability to meet specific transplant criteria.

“While there has been misinformation circulating, Children’s cannot discuss the specifics of this case or any other case due to privacy rules. Our physician experts are continuing to work with this family to establish a care plan and determine the best next steps for the patient.”

The decision comes days after the hospital sent out a letter to the family explaining why Stokes he was not a candidate “due to having a history of non-compliance.”

“As we discussed today with Anthony’s mother, we will not place Anthony on the heart transplant waiting list at this time due to this decision.”

The Southern Christian Leadership (SCLC) had joined the family in their fight to get Stokes a new heart. Prior to the hospitals reversal Rev. Samuel Mosteller, president of the Georgia SCLC, said, “They told the family they need to go home and make arrangements.”

“He’s been given a death sentence because of a broad and vague excuse of non-compliance,” said Christine Young Brown, of the SCLC, in an interview. “There was nothing specific in that decision. Just non-compliance.”

Stokes suffers from dilated cardiomyopathy, in which the heart’s main pumping chamber fails to pump enough blood. Without a new heart doctors predict he could die in six months from heart failure.

Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti