Does a young man with a troubled past deserve a heart transplant?

The news report from suburban Atlanta was tragically similar to many others: a black male teenager, Anthony Stokes, who had previous brushes with the law, battered his way into the home of an elderly woman, shot her, and then fled in her car.  During the ensuing police chase, the teen injured an innocent pedestrian, crashed the car, and died.  But the common sad event had an uncommon twist: just two years earlier, Stokes had received a new heart after his mother and civil rights organizations waged a public campaign for the surgery.

Stokes made international news in August 2013 after the media reported that Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston had not put him on a transplant list. The hospital ruled he was a bad candidate for the organ because of his background that suggested he would be “uncompliant” in treatment and had brushes with the law.

His mother, Melencia Hamilton, then told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that hospital officials stereotyped her son, who wore a court-ordered monitoring device, as a troubled teen.

“It just seemed they decided he’s a troublemaker, and that’s not true,” she said in August 2013. (snip)

People who receive transplants must adhere to strict medication regimens to keep their bodies from rejecting the organs. A person can be disqualified if hospital officials think the patient won’t stick to that regimen, has no support system or an inability to pay for expensive anti-rejection medicines.

At the time Stokes was diagnosed, doctors said he would die within six to nine months without a transplant, Hamilton said. The hospital reversed course and Stokes received a heart after his mother and critics from civil rights organizations contended he was denied the heart because he was poor, black and had trouble with the law, which his mother said was for fighting.

Perhaps hospital authorities thought Stokes was a troublemaker because he proudly posted pictures of himself with guns on his Facebook site.

The supply of hearts is limited; the demand is great.  Stokes got his heart and another chance at life from someone who lost his life.  And another ill individual who probably would have led a more productive life did not get that heart.

The Tin Woodsman from Oz would have been a better choice.

Wizard of Oz: As for you, my galvanized friend, you want a heart. You don't know how lucky you are not to have one.  Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable.

Tin Woodsman: But I still want one.