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Boy with Down syndrome left at hospital, dies years later at age 16

The advocates who cared for him say his death proves the system still needs so much work.

ATLANTA — We have heartbreaking news about a family who we have followed for years at 11Alive; 16-year-old Sheldon Linden has died.

His story made national headlines when his Mom dropped him off at Grady, alone.

She told us then she didn't know how to care for him anymore and that the system was broken.

Now, the advocates who cared for Sheldon say his death proves the system still needs so much work.

"He was just a boy. He wanted to play with his stuffed animals," said Sheryl Arno, the executive director of the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta. 

She loved spending time with Sheldon and loved to see how much his little brothers and sisters cared for him as well.

"When I saw pictures of him with his siblings, they loved him," Arno added. "And they're devastated."

She first met Sheldon after his Mom left him at Grady Hospital, alone.

Years later, the boy's mother would tell 11Alive that she loved her son, she just couldn't get him the help he needed

"Diana left him at Grady because the systems are broken and she was broken. It's not because she's a bad mom. The systems are broken. And we have to do better," Arno explained. 

Sheldon's case shined a spotlight on the shortcomings of Georgia's disability services, and the 16-year-old was the inspiration for a series at 11Alive aimed at changing that.

"The system is just so broken and so unfair. And there's such a disparity," Arno added.

She explained that Sheldon was in pain over the weekend, but his parents told her when they brought him to the hospital, the doctors sent him home.

He died at his dad's house early Monday morning.

"All people with Down Syndrome are not always happy. And they don't all love to hug. And sometimes they're in pain and people just don't listen to them," Arno added. 

Thankfully, the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta listened to Sheldon.

They raised money to support him - to help find the right doctors and therapy appointments.

When his family moved back to Ohio, the organization sent Sheldon Christmas presents, and bought his family mattresses for their new home.

However, Arno said she struggles knowing that wasn't enough.

"I have to sit here as an advocate and say, maybe he's at peace now. And that breaks my heart for any child, that being dead would be better than the systems he has to go through - that weren't prepared for him or his family - to take care of them in an appropriate way," she said. 

Arno added that Sheldon's death will push her to work harder, to advocate more loudly, to make sure the next child is heard.

"He was a child. He was a child that deserved more," she said. 

Meanwhile, Sheldon's family is still planning his funeral.

The Board of the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta will help them with the cost of burying him.