Karen Corby is doing what most mothers — and fathers — would do if their child was denied a live-saving heart transplant. She is tugging at our emotions as she publicly questions the decision-making process in Pennsylvania that resulted in her 23-year-old autistic son with “psychiatric issues” not being high enough on the transplant list to get a new heart.
This is clearly a sad situation. It, however, is far from unique. Thousands of people are denied transplants every year as medical professionals weigh their chances of long-term survival in relation to others who need a transplant.
“The thing to keep in mind is if more of us would sign donor cards, there would be less pressure to reject anybody. It’s the huge shortage of hearts that really drives this problem,” said Arthur Caplan, head of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center.
More than 6,000 people in America die while awaiting an organ transplant. Sadly, there is not a shortage of organs that could be transplanted from people who die in accidents. The problem is that most healthy organs are thrown away because too few are donors.
This problem is getting worse, not better. The list for organ donations is growing five times faster than the rate of organ donations.
Those statistics, although startling, don’t move people to become organ donors. But heartbreaking stories told by a loving mother do.
Karen Corby’s son, Paul, was recommended for a transplant because he was born with left ventricular noncompaction, a congenital disorder that left part of his heart less able to pump blood through his body.
But in a letter dated June 13, 2011, Dr. Susan Brozena wrote: “I have recommended against transplant given his psychiatric issues, autism, the complexity of the process, multiple procedures and the unknown and unpredictable effect of steroids on behavior.”
Karen was upset by the decision.
“He just needs a fighting chance and the same rights to medical care as others his age,” she said in a statement. “Autism is not a terminal disease and we cannot allow it to become one.”
Karen has started an online petition that had 13,000 signatures as of Thursday and will likely have many more as the Corby family story goes viral.
Ultimately, public attention — and pressure — could get Paul the transplant he needs to survive.
But what about the thousands of other people who will die because their gut-wrenching stories don’t grab national attention?
More people need to become organ donors to save lives. It’s a simple process done when renewing a driver’s license.