UPDATE: Anthony Stokes, the dying 15-year-old denied a chance to get a new heart because of his grades and juvenile record, has been put on the heart transplant list by an Atlanta hospital. Details are at the end of this post.
A 15-year-old boy in desperate need of a heart transplant is being denied a spot on a national transplant registry by doctors who say the teen’s poor school grades and run-ins with the law make him unqualified for life-saving treatment.
Without a transplant to replace his enlarged heart, Anthony Stokes has less than six months to live.
Melencia Hamilton, Anthony’s mother, told Atlanta’s WSBTV News that a panel of transplant doctors ruled her son has a history of non-compliance and would not make a good candidate for a transplant. “They said they don’t have any evidence that he would take his medicine or that he would go to his follow-ups,” said Hamilton, whose son is being treated at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta said in a statement that its doctors are working with the family “and looking at all options” to help Anthony, but noted that the hospital follows “very specific criteria in determining eligibility for a transplant of any kind.”
Spokeswoman Patty Gregory did not give specifics on why Anthony is being denied a transplant, but family members and friends said doctors labeled Anthony “non-compliant” partly because of his school grades and unspecified run-ins with law enforcement. Which means they essentially sentenced a 15-year-old kid to a death sentence for being… well… a teenager.
Now, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is looking into Anthony’s case and demanding to know, exactly, what led to the panel’s decision. “He’s been given a death sentence because of a broad and vague excuse of noncompliance,” said the SCLC’s Christine Young Brown. “There was nothing specific in that decision. Just noncompliance.”
Of course, the larger implication here is that if Anthony can be denied a heart transplant because of bad grades or a brush or two with the law, then African Americans in general and young Black men in particular could be disproportionately denied access to life-saving treatment. After all, brushes with the law for young black male teens are damn near set up as early as kindergarten, with police officers stationed in primarily urban schools arresting our children for the smallest of infractions, down to kindergarten temper tantrums that end with handcuffing and escorts to jail. The streets are no safer; in a place like, say, New York, a brush with the law could come for something as simple as being brown and walking down the street, a la the government-sanctioned “Stop and Frisk” program. The school-to-prison pipeline is real, and now, if Anthony’s case is any indication, getting caught in that web could mean a death sentence for our most vulnerable children. Maybe even yours.
And as one commenter pointed out on a Think Progress post about Anthony’s case, such discriminatory decisions about transplants, made by doctors’ panels made up primarily of white, privileged men, also could affect the numbers of people of color who sign up to be organ donors, or allow organ donations from their loved ones. “There’s stigma against everyone who isn’t the ‘ideal’ patient, and so much of your life is being decided by people who barely know you,” wrote Rachel Economou, a white woman who said she is a heart transplant recipient. “People need to trust that their organs are being transplanted fairly, and that just isn’t always the case.”
We at MyBrownBaby are praying that amplifying his story and supporting the SCLC in its fight to help Anthony will lead a separate panel of doctors to recognize the teen for what he is: a child—a human being—in need of critical medical attention that could save his life.
UPDATE: Anthony Stokes’ family told WSB-TV Atlanta that the 15-year-old teen has been added to the list for a heart transplant. The news comes after a day’s worth of national uproar over a medical panel’s decision to deny the teen a spot on the list—a decision his family believed was based on his grades and juvenile record. Details on why the panel reversed its decision have not been revealed, but news of the denial raised serious questions about why doctors would deny Anthony’s chance to receive the life-saving transplant and whether their decision was the result of a systemic profiling of African Americans in need of donor organs.
Indeed, in an interview with RollingOut.com, Christine Young Brown of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference said that the transplant review panel requested Anthony’s grades and juvenile records before ruling that he would likely be “non-compliant” with taking his medicine and showing up for doctor’s appointments. Brown said there was no evidence that he would not comply with doctors’ orders; he’s been in the hospital since mid-July, and has done everything his doctors have told him to do. Brown also suggested that the Stokes family’s finances may have played a part in the panel’s decision. “I’m seeing a pattern where medicaid children are being patched up and shipped home to die,” Brown told RollingOut. “I’m wondering who is getting these organs. A lot of these organs are coming from medicaid patients who die. It’s a bigger picture to this. His family is not financially well-off. But he wants the chance to live and go to college. This is equal to a death sentence.”
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