Georgia toddler denied kidney transplant due to father's criminal record

A.J. Burgess, 2, was born without a working kidney.

— -- A Georgia toddler desperately needs a kidney transplant, and his father was deemed the perfect match, but the operation was canceled due to the father's criminal record. Now, the little boy is fighting for his life as his family pleads for help.

A.J. Burgess was born a month early and without a working kidney. Now 2 years old and weighing just 25 pounds, A.J. was set to receive a kidney last month from his father, Anthony Dickerson, who was tested and proved to be a perfect match.

Dickerson was arrested in December 2016 for violating his probation on weapons charges, according to criminal records. He vowed to give A.J. a kidney once he got out, the boy's mother, Carmellia Burgess, told CBS affiliate in Atlanta WGCL-TV.

"He made it his business to say, 'Once I get out, I'm going to promise to my son that he can get a kidney,'" she told WGCL.

Dickerson was released from jail six weeks later and he was scheduled to undergo surgery at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on Oct. 3 to donate his left kidney to his son. But he was arrested on Sept. 28 for violating his parole again for possession of a firearm or knife during the commission of or attempt to commit certain felonies as well as for fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, according to criminal records.

"It ain't nothing I'm proud of. It's life. Stuff happens. A mistake happens," Dickerson told ABC News in an interview. "I want to give him a kidney. I’d go to the hospital right now and lay down and give him my kidney. But it ain't up to me."

In a letter dated Sept. 28 provided to ABC News by the family's attorney, Emory University Hospital asked Gwinnett County Jail's solicitor officer if Dickerson could be escorted to the hospital for blood work and a preoperative appointment on Sept. 29 in order to continue with the scheduled procedure.

According to criminal records, Dickerson was released from prison Oct. 2. But in a subsequent letter provided to ABC News by the family's attorney, Emory University Hospital announced it was canceling the Oct. 3 operation that could potentially save A.J.'s life.

"Mr. Anthony Dickerson has been approved to donate a kidney to his 2-year-old son who is a patient of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta," the letter states. "The Living Donor Transplant Team at Emory has asked Mr. Dickerson for evidence of compliance from his parole officer for the next three months. We will re-evaluate Mr. Dickerson in January 2018 after receipt of this completed documentation."

But A.J.'s mother worries January will be too late for her ailing son. The little boy is battling a peritonitis infection and was taken to the emergency room Sunday, according to a GoFundMe page Burgess set up to raise money for A.J.'s medical bills.

"A.J.'s spirit is strong but his body is not," she writes on the crowdfunding website. "Please help. His father is a match."

In an update posted on the GoFundMe page this week, Burgess said the family is "looking into other options" because Emory University Hospital "isn't budging at all."

In a statement, Dr. Jonathan S. Lewin, CEO of Emory Healthcare, told ABC News: "The health challenges of 2-year-old A.J. Burgess have captured the hearts of all of us in Atlanta, and many people around the country. This courageous and magnetic young boy has kidney failure, and he and his family have bravely battled his health challenges every day of his life. The entire Emory community is motivated and engaged to help him secure a healthy future."

He added: "We greatly respect the father's desire to become a donor, and we want to work with him to try and make this happen. The national guidelines for approving a potential organ donor are clear and stringent. When evaluating any potential donor, Emory's medical team is required to consider the ability of the donor to manage the many complications and health challenges that come with a major surgical procedure."

"... We want a successful transplant for A.J. and we also want a positive outcome for his father or any other potential living donor," the statement added.

In a press conference Thursday evening, the family revealed that “talks have reopened” with the hospital and they are expected to meet Monday.

In the meantime, A.J. is fighting for his life.

"He's still fighting, he is. He's been fighting since day one," Burgess told ABC News.

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, individuals interested in being a donor must undergo a "psychosocial and medical evaluation process" to protect themselves and "to help ensure success of the transplant."

"You will need to answer all the questions that are asked. This includes questions about any history of 'high risk' behaviors," the United Network for Organ Sharing says on its website. "The transplant staff will ask about your financial situation and talk about who can give you physical help and emotional support throughout the donation process. You will be asked to fully describe your reasons for wanting to donate and how it might affect your lifestyle (such as employment and family relationships). Involving your loved ones in the educational part of the evaluation process can be helpful. They can learn about the donation surgery and recovery process and support you in your decision."

ABC News' Felicia Biberica, Darrell Calhoun, Alexandra Faul, Rachel Katz, Scottye Kennedy, Janice McDonald, Steve Osunsami and Morgan Winsor contributed to this report.

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