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Teen Gets Heart Device after Transplant List Saga

By Elizabeth Landau CNN | 8/19/2013, 12:05 p.m.
Anthony Stokes' health has come into the national spotlight because the hospital first told his family he was ineligible for a spot on the heart transplant list, according to his family. But Tuesday, according to Bell, doctors reversed that decision and gave him top priority.

Now on the waiting list for a heart transplant, Anthony Stokes had a procedure Friday to insert a device to support the failing heart he has, a family spokesman said.

The 15-year-old had a ventricular assist device, or VAD, implanted on Friday at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, family friend Mark Bell told CNN.

A VAD is a mechanical pump that's used to support heart function and blood flow in people who have weakened hearts, according to the National Institutes of Health. It includes a small tube that carries blood out of the heart into a pump, and another tube carries blood from the pump to blood vessels. The vessels deliver the blood to the body.

VADs can be used in people waiting for a heart transplant or those ineligible for a heart transplant, as a long-term solution to help with heart function. They can also be used during or after surgery while the heart recovers.

Bell says Anthony is doing "extremely well."

Citing patient privacy, a hospital spokeswoman declined to confirm Anthony's VAD procedure, and referred CNN to the family for related inquiries.

The teen has been in the hospital since July 14, according to CNN affiliate WSB-TV.

Anthony's health has come into the national spotlight because the hospital first told his family he was ineligible for a spot on the heart transplant list, according to his family. But Tuesday, according to Bell, doctors reversed that decision and gave him top priority.

An August 7 letter, which Bell provided to CNN, said that "Anthony is currently not a transplant candidate due to having a history of noncompliance, which is one of our center's contraindications to listing for heart transplant."

Noncompliance generally means that doctors doubt that a patient will take his medicine or go to follow-up appointments.

In a statement Tuesday, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta said, "While there has been misinformation circulating, Children's cannot discuss the specifics of this case or any other case due to privacy rules."

The hospital earlier had said it was working "closely with the family" to find solutions.

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston is in good standing, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, the nonprofit organization in charge of transplant coordination in the United States.

A matter of compliance

Assessing compliance for potential transplant recipients is important because if a patient doesn't strictly take all required medicines as directed, he or she could die within weeks of leaving the hospital, said Dr. Ryan Davies, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, who is not involved with this case.

But Bell said a doctor told the family that Anthony's low grades and time spent in juvenile detention factored into that assessment.

"The doctor made the decision that he wasn't a good candidate because of that," Bell said. "I guess he didn't think Anthony was going to be a productive citizen."

Anthony's mother, Melencia Hamilton, told CNN affiliate WGCL-TV that doctors said Anthony would live only three to six months if he didn't get the heart transplant.