Autistic Man Denied Heart Transplant at HUP

A local woman is speaking out on behalf of her autistic son, whom she says was denied a lifesaving heart transplant by doctors at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

It all sounds eerily familiar: A special-needs patient is denied a lifesaving organ transplant by a local hospital. People get mad. Petitions are created, circulated, signed. News outlets pick up the story. And then we wait for a response.

If you remember little Amelia Rivera’s ordeal with CHOP earlier this year, you know what I’m talking about. Now it’s happening to a 23-year-old autistic man named Paul Corby, who was denied a heart transplant by the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. His mother, Karen, says that after undergoing an evaluation, hospital docs determined that Corby’s “psychiatric issues, autism, the complexity of the process, multiple procedures and the unknown and unpredictable effect of steroids on behavior” meant he wasn’t a good candidate, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. The family has not been told how long Corby will live without the transplant.

At first, Corby, who suffers from a condition called left ventricular noncompaction, accepted the hospital’s decision. “And then he thought, ‘Why not? Why don’t they like me?’ ” Karen told the Inky. So she started an online petition on to try and get the hospital to change its mind, buoyed by little Amelia’s story, in which CHOP ended up reversing its decision. After being picked up by a few blogs and the Inquirer, the petition now has over 11,200 signatures.

HUP won’t comment on the case, citing privacy issues, but Penn health system spokeswoman Susan Phillips reported that at least one other autistic patient has undergone an organ transplant at the hospital. Transplant candidates are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and evaluated according to potential outcomes based on their medical history, which in Corby’s case is somewhat complicated. (The Inky goes into lots of detail about it, so I’ll let you read about it over there.)

Karen says her son is high functioning and deserves the transplant as much as anybody else; the 11,000-plus who’ve signed her petition seem to agree. So far, the hospital hasn’t budged on its decision.

But the story raises the same debate we hashed out over Amelia Rivera: Should a person’s disability—or quality of life, or prognosis—come into play when deciding whether or not he or she qualifies for a procedure or treatment? Do stories like this call into question hospitals’ screening processes altogether? Share your thoughts in the comments.