Teen Denied Access to Transplant List Receives New Heart

Anthony Stokes now has a new heart, according to his family.

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A spokesperson for Anthony Stokes’ family said that the 15-year-old received a heart transplant on Tuesday, after officials at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta initially denied Stokes a place on the waiting list because they felt the teen had a history of non-compliance.

In interviews, Stokes’ mother mentioned that she suspected Anthony’s grades and run-ins with law enforcement might have influenced the doctors’ impression that her son would not be a good candidate for taking the medications and keeping up with appointments that organ transplants require.

Rev. Samuel Mosteller, Georgia state president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who is working with the Stokes family, told TIME after the hospital decided not to put Stokes on the list that during Anthony’s initial examination, he was wearing a police ankle bracelet, for what Mosteller called a “youthful indiscretion that had nothing to do with jail.”

After Stokes’ plight received national attention, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta reversed its decision and put Stokes on the transplant list, and within a week, a suitable heart became available.

MORE: About-Face: Hospital Puts Denied Teen on Transplant List

Stokes’ heart condition brought him to the hospital in July, after he complained of chest pains, a family spokesperson told CNN. Soon after, he was told he could expect to live only another three to six months, and to return home since he was not deemed a suitable candidate for a heart transplant, which was the only long-term treatment for his condition. His family was frustrated by what appeared to be non-medical and unfair reasons for denying Stokes a place on the waiting list. According to transplant experts, such psychosocial factors are often part of the evaluation of transplant candidates. As TIME reported several weeks ago:

Transplant centers routinely consider more than just medical need in determining eligibility of transplant candidates. Organ transplants are invasive, complicated procedures that require extensive follow-up care to prevent infection and reduce the chances that patients will reject their donated organ. For heart-transplant recipients, that may require taking as many as 10 medications a day and visiting the hospital regularly for tests.

“If they are not able to take those medications and comply with medical care, then that is going to be problematic and potentially fatal,” said Dr. Duane Davis, director of transplant surgery at Duke University Medical Center. “And it’s certainly going to impact the longevity they will have.”

Generally, if patients are in desperate medical need, a transplant team, which includes the surgeons, doctors, a psychologist, social worker and other coordinators, will meet and evaluate a patient for transplant eligibility within 48 to 72 hours. The assessment includes discussions with the family to determine if the patient has the social and psychological support necessary to recover well from the surgery, and insurance or other financial ability to pay for the posttransplant medications, which include powerful drugs that suppress the immune system and are critical to the surgery’s success.

While it’s rare for patients to be denied access to the list, surgeons have reported cases where noncompliant patients have received their transplants, only to have the organs fail when the patients don’t take follow-up medications or avoid risk factors that can compromise their health.

MORE: Parents Lobby — and Win —a Shot at New Lungs for Their Kids. Are Transplant Rules Made to Be Broken?

A spokesperson for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta said the hospital could not comment on Stokes’ case for privacy reasons, but a family spokesperson told CNN that Anthony was “doing great.”