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"Oh, I'll be a new man."
--Brian Cortez, as he went into the hospital to receive a new heart on September 12, 2001, the day after terrorist attacks nearly kept the operation from happening

July 19: With A Little Help From His Friends, Cortez Finally On Transplant List
September 14: Brian Cortez Will Not Be Victim Of Terrorists
April 27: Man's Disability May Keep Him From Heart Transplant
July 21: Man Doing Well Despite Being Denied Transplant

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Man's Disability May Keep Him From Heart Transplant
April 27, 2000

LACEY, WASHINGTON--In a preliminary medical evaluation, doctors at the University of Washington have written that, despite having congestive heart failure, 20-year-old Brian Cortez is not a candidate for a heart transplant "due to his developmental delay and inability to understand and comply with instructions".

After several weeks of tests last fall, Brian was diagnosed with having a swollen and weakened heart. In January, he was hospitalized again. But doctors suggested he be treated with medications rather than receive a new heart, saying that they believe Brian, who also has severe hearing loss, cannot follow the necessary medication regimen or communicate any problems after the surgery.

Members of Brian's personal support network claim that doctors did not take into account the amount of support he receives and that they neglected to have a sign-language interpreter at the hospital who could explain things properly to Brian during his stays.

Now Brian's friends and family are rallying together and are looking into filing a lawsuit citing the Americans with Disabilities Act's "reasonable accommodation" provisions.

More details are available from today's Seattle Times:

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Man Doing Well Despite Being Denied Transplant
July 21, 2000
LACEY, WASHINGTON--By all accounts, Brian Cortez is doing quite well. He does need to take naps often, but he spends time with friends, helps out around the house, and even shoots baskets.

This spring, things looked pretty grim for the 20-year-old man, who is deaf and has a developmental disability. Cortez was being hospitalized for a rare heart problem that left him breathless and with little energy. Untreated, the condition could lead to an early death.

Last winter, University of Washington doctors said Cortez needed a heart transplant. But, they would not list him as a candidate for a heart, because they believed his disabilities made it so he couldn't emotionally cope with the surgery or follow the strict medication regimen needed after the operation. They pointed out that during his hospitalization, he resisted important testing and fought with nurses.

Cortez' school teachers, family members and friends rallied around to support him. They threatened to file a discrimination suit against the hospital, claiming the doctors had not properly evaluated him. They said he was combative because the hospital's sign language interpreter was not properly trained and could not communicate well with Cortez to explain what was happening. They also explained that he has the support at home to help him keep to his medication schedule and take care of his other needs.

The good news is that now, with medication and close monitoring, he seems to be doing so well physically that he would not be a candidate for a transplant if a heart became available, according to Thursday's Seattle Times:

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With A Little Help From His Friends, Cortez Finally On Transplant List
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
July 19, 2001

TACOMA, WASHINGTON--Brian Cortez, 21, has congestive heart failure. He also has a developmental disability, and schizophrenia and is deaf.

Right now he also has a stable home with people who care about him. That may, in fact, be what saves his life.

Over a year ago, the University of Washington Medical Center refused to put Cortez on a waiting list for a heart transplant. Disability rights advocates and Cortez' friends threatened to sue the hospital for discrimination. University officials responded by saying their decision had little to do with the man's disabilities and more to do with his lack of consistent support to make sure he would do what was needed after surgery.

This spring, Cortez' longtime teacher and advocate, Ted Karanson, stepped forward and agreed to assume guardianship and home care for his former student.

After Cortez lived with Karanson and his partner for three months, the UW placed him on the list for a transplant. That's a good thing because even though his medical condition stabilized with medication earlier this year, his heart is starting to deteriorate, according to this story from Thursday's Seattle Times:

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Brian Cortez Will Not Be Victim Of Terrorists
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
September 14, 2001

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON--Brian Cortez has a new heart today.

The 21-year-old is reportedly recovering well after a five hour operation Wednesday morning.

But after a two-year long battle with medical professionals, the young man who had congestive heart failure nearly became a victim of the recent terrorist attacks on the opposite side of the country.

Cortez, who is deaf and has a developmental disability, was put on a heart transplant list in July of this year, only after friends threatened to sue the University of Washington Medical Center for discriminating against him because of his disabilities. The doctors had originally rejected Cortez because they believed he would not be able to understand and follow instructions to take care of himself after the surgery. His supporters, including his former high school teacher Ted Karanson, successfully argued that Cortez certainly was capable of learning, and that he had any support he needed in the form of family and friends.

Early Wednesday morning, a heart was saved from a young crash victim in Anchorage, Alaska. But that was 2,300 miles away and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had stopped all air traffic just a few hours earlier because the disasters in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC.

A heart can only be useful for eight hours, so in a race against time, a private plane was chartered to fly the heart to Seattle and was given special clearance by the FAA.

FBI Special Agent Jim Powers later told the Associated Press that Royal Canadian Air Force fighters escorted the flight through Canadian air space, then turned the plane over to U.S. Navy fighters jets.

But, the message that the charter flight had special FAA clearance did not get to a fighter pilot, who forced the plane to land about 80 miles north of its destination in Bellingham.

The heart was transported the rest of the way by helicopter. When it reached the medical team, six hours had passed.

"We had an excellent heart to transplant," said Dr. Gabriel Aldea, UW chief of adult cardiac surgery, who performed the operation. "The surgery went very, very well."

Cortez is expected to recover in the hospital for the next week to 10 days.

"Oh, I'll be a new man," Cortez told Karanson on the trip to the hospital.

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