(UPDATED) Hospital Denies Black Teen A Heart Transplant Because Of Bad Grades And Trouble With Law
Important updates below
Doctors at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta estimate that without a heart transplant, 15-year-old Anthony Stokes will die within three to six months from heart failure. Yet despite his prognosis, they refuse to put Anthony on the transplant list, telling his family he doesn’t qualify due to “a history of non-compliance” characterized by “low grades and trouble with the law.”
“They said they don’t have any evidence that he would take his medicine or that he would go to his follow-ups,” Melencia Hamilton, Anthony’s mother, told WSBTV. Hamilton says that a transplant is the only option for her son’s enlarged heart.
In a recently issued statement, the hospital would not reveal any specifics about how they came to their decision, saying, “The well-being of our patients is always our first priority. We are continuing to work with this family and looking at all options regarding this patient’s health care. We follow very specific criteria in determining eligibility for a transplant of any kind.” The hospital wants to send him home with medication, presumably to die.
But Anthony’s loved ones haven’t given up on him. Neither has the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which has taken up his cause.
“He’s been given a death sentence because of a broad and vague excuse of noncompliance. There was nothing specific in that decision. Just noncompliance,” Christine Young Brown of the SCLC told CBS Atlanta.
Mack Major, Anthony’s mentor, added, “We must save Anthony’s life. We don’t have a lot of time to do it, but it’s something that must be done.”
It’s no secret that children of color, particularly black children, are far more likely to be suspended and expelled for minor infractions than their white peers, pushing them out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system in a process known as the “school to prison pipeline.” With this in mind, is it fair for Anthony to be denied life-saving treatment because he is a black male and therefore the target of discriminatory discipline policies and a structurally racist criminal justice system?
Little Value Placed On Black And Brown Lives
Anthony isn’t the only person being pushed to his death by institutional racism.
Last week, 14 undocumented Mexican immigrants in desperate need of organ transplants embarked on a hunger strike outside of Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital to protest the facility’s refusal to provide organ transplants to the undocumented and uninsured.
According to the Moratorium on Deportations Campaign, “Hospitals routinely deny life-saving patient care based on immigration status and inability to pay: in a profit-driven medical system, only certain lives are deemed to be worth saving.”
But that doesn’t stop hospitals from using organs donated by the undocumented and uninsured to save the lives of more privileged Americans.
Dr. David Ansell, chief medical officer at Rush University Medical Center, told the Chicago Sun-Times that, “20 percent of organs come from uninsured people, but around 1 percent of organs go to uninsured people who need them. These people donate the organs, but mostly don’t get access to them.”
As census data indicates, an overwhelming 55 percent of uninsured Americans are people of color, including 20 percent of African Americans 30 percent of Hispanics. And with that, a disturbing picture begins to emerge of a system that happily harvests the organs of poor minorities to give to the privileged while cutting off their access to life-saving treatment.
Over the years several studies have shown that lack of insurance isn’t the only factor contributing to transplant disparities. A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Transplantation by researchers at the Emory Transplant Center in Atlanta, Georgia, found significant racial disparities throughout the organ transplant process even after controlling for demographics.
“Socioeconomic factors, including health insurance and access to care, explained almost 1/3 of the lower rate of transplant among black vs. white patients,” the research reveals. “However, even after adjusting for demographic, clinical, and socioeconomic factors, blacks had a 59% lower rate of transplant than whites.”
A more recent study by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine revealed similar findings that showed African Americans were 56 percent less likely to receive a kidney before dialysis than their white counterparts.
People of color are at a clear disadvantage when it comes to organ transplantation. And absent some sort of intervention, 15-year-old Anthony Stokes will die because of it.
According to Anthony Stokes’ mother, Melencia Hamilton, the hospital has no medical history to base their “non-compliance” determination on. It wasn’t until last month that Anthony’s family even knew he was sick (he’s been in the hospital since July 14). My Fox Atlanta has the details:
Hamilton says her son has only been to clinics for check-ups and immunization shots because, until now, he’s never been sick. She believes money played a role in the hospital’s decision.
“I think that they don’t think that we can pay for the medicine. We probably couldn’t get to the doctor visits because of transportation. I don’t have a car,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton also believes Anthony’s juvenile record played a role in the hospital’s decision. She says he was under a court-ordered house arrest.
But despite his past, Anthony’s mother believes he deserves a chance to live so he can fulfill his dreams.
“He wants to go to college so bad. He talks about being an entrepreneur, opening up his own computer store,” said Hamilton.
As someone who has received a heart transplant, this article is horrifying. I was non-compliant with a lot of things, but you know what? They gave me a second chance. Hmmm, notice any striking differences between me and Anthony?
This is proof that the process of being listed for a transplant is HUGELY flawed. These panels of doctors (no actual transplant recipients are on the panel, just a board of healthy, mostly white male doctors!) are not deciding fairly and unbiased who will get on the list. 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. His history of bad school performance and trouble with the law is no reason to deny a teenager a transplant. I mean, c’mon, who didn’t do stupid stuff at 15?
On top of everything, their racist, judgemental decisions negatively impact the number of people who sign up to be organ donors. People need to trust that their organs are being transplanted fairly, and that just isn’t always the case.
Thinking of you, Anthony. This just isn’t fair. Honestly though, as difficult as it will be, if you cannot get them to budge on the decision, go to another transplant hospital. Each one has it’s own group of doctors that make the decision, they will probably feel differently.
She later added the following clarification about her experience with being labeled “non-compliant”:
Non-compliance is a reason to make them WAIT to get on the list (like they did to me), not to deny them completely. When I refused blood draws, medication, etc, they said, “Okay, you won’t get on the list until you do this stuff.” So I did. Then I got on the list. And got a heart in a month.
Moral of the story, possible non-compliance is not a reason to outright DENY someone getting on the list, only to postpone it.
The more I learn about the hospital’s refusal to give Anthony Stokes a fighting chance, the more disgusted I become.
UPDATE 2: Good news: the hospital reversed its decision and added Anthony’s name to the list!