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Pa. Mom’s Efforts For Heart Transplant For Autistic Son Highlights Complexity Of Decision

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By Pat Loeb

POTTSVILLE, Pa. (CBS) — A Schuylkill County, Pa. mother has turned to an online petition web site to try to get a Philadelphia hospital to put her adult son on a heart transplant list.

She claims the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania improperly considered his autism in deciding against a transplant for him.

HUP has declined comment, but other transplant programs explain that the decision making process is not necessarily easy.

The International Society of Heart and Lung Transplantation has guidelines that almost all transplant programs follow. They look at a patient’s medical condition, but also a host of other factors.

Dr. Rene Alvarez, medical director of Temple Hospital‘s heart failure and transplant program, says the selection committee there includes social workers, psychiatrists, and occasionally ethicists.

“So it’s not just about their heart, it’s about their other organs, their mental health, their social support, their psychosocial environment, their compliance history,” he says. “Do they use drugs? Have they used drugs? Things like that.”

rene alvarez Pa. Moms Efforts For Heart Transplant For Autistic Son Highlights Complexity Of Decision

(Dr. Rene Alvarez. Photo provided)

Alvarez (right) says the team has a duty not just to the patient, but to the donor’s family to make sure their gift serves its highest purpose.

He says there are about 2,200 heart transplants a year but as many as 50,000 people on the waiting list.

“So transplantation is not the solution for the treatment of heart failure,” he adds. “And that’s why there are mechanical hearts and other therapeutics being investigated, because transplantation is only a therapy for a very few.”

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