A father in Georgia who had prepared to donate a kidney to his 2-year-old son said last week that he is being forced to wait after a recent stint in county jail.
Anthony Dickerson's son, A.J., was born without kidneys, and Dickerson, who is a perfect match, was ready to donate one of his, he told NBC affiliate WXIA in Atlanta. He was arrested days before the planned transplant but released from Gwinnett County Jail this month to undergo surgery. Now, he said, the transplant center at Emory University Hospital has put it on hold — in a case that one expert called befuddling.
“That's all I ever wanted was a son,” the 26-year-old father told the news station. “And I finally got him, and he's in this situation.”
Dickerson, who was on probation over numerous charges, including theft and forgery, was arrested Sept. 28 on charges of possession of a firearm and fleeing or attempting to elude police, said Shannon Volkodav, a spokeswoman for the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office.
The family told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that medical personnel sent a letter to jail authorities, requesting that Dickerson be escorted to Emory for a preoperative appointment so he could continue with the scheduled surgery. The next day, A.J.'s mother provided authorities with the necessary documentation showing that Dickerson was scheduled to donate a kidney on Oct. 3, Volkodav said.
“Our staff worked diligently with court personnel and the District Attorney’s Office to make arrangements for Mr. Dickerson’s early release so that he could follow through on his scheduled kidney donation for his young son, AJ,” Volkodav said in a statement Monday to The Washington Post. As a result, she said, Dickerson was released Oct. 2 on a $1,000 bond.
“We wish this family well in their pursuit of medical assistance for their son and hope that little AJ is soon enjoying good health,” she said in the statement.
But after authorities secured his release, the family said, the hospital backpedaled.
In a second letter, hospital officials said the transplant team at Emory would now require Dickerson to provide evidence that he had complied with his parole officer over the next three months.
“We will reevaluate Mr. Dickerson in January 2018 after receipt of his completed documentation,” it read, according to the newspaper.
But the family argues that the transplant should not be about Dickerson.
“It's about my son,” the child's mother, Carmella Burgess, told WXIA. “He's been through a lot. It's like we've been waiting on this. And Dad making a mistake shouldn't affect what he wants to do with our son.”
The family told the news station that they are at a loss — A.J., who had a stroke a couple of months ago, needs the transplant, and putting him on a waiting list for a kidney would take too long.
Asked about the decision to postpone the transplant, Emory spokesman Vincent Dollard said in a statement to The Post:
Emory Healthcare is committed to the highest quality of care for its patients. Guidelines for organ transplantation are designed to maximize the chance of success for organ recipients and minimize risk for living donors. Transplant decisions regarding donors are made based on many medical, social, and psychological factors. Because of privacy regulations and respect for patient confidentiality, we cannot share specific information about our patients.
Though it's unclear why exactly Emory appeared to go back on its decision, experts say transplant centers look at many factors when evaluating a living donor, including health risks and whether the donor will be reliable and accessible.
Dickerson's medical history is not publicly known.
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, a nonprofit that manages the transplant system in the United States, living donors “should be in good overall physical and mental health.”
Some medical conditions could prevent you from being a living donor. Medical conditions that may prevent a living kidney donation may include uncontrolled high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, HIV, hepatitis, acute infections, or a psychiatric condition requiring treatment. Since some donor health conditions could harm a transplant recipient, it is important that you share all information about your physical and mental health. You must be fully informed of the known risks involved with donating and complete a full medical and psychosocial evaluation.
Art Caplan, a professor of bioethics and head of the division of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine, said policies are determined by authorities and transplant centers, not by law.
“Usually when centers balk at a donor, it's for some reason having to do with a medical problem that hasn't been disclosed that poses additional risk . . . or a worry that the donor can't follow up with medical care if something goes wrong,” Caplan said Monday in a phone interview. “But I don't find either of those particularly great reasons not to use him as a donor.”