A Colorado woman is being denied a lifesaving kidney transplant because she has not been vaccinated against COVID-19. Republican State Representative Tim Geitner for El Paso County took notice of the hospital’s actions and posted on Twitter, "UCHealth denies life saving treatment - kidney transplant - to El Paso County resident."
Leilani Lutali reportedly received a letter from the UCHealth Transplant Center at its Anschutz Medical Campus which said:
"The transplant team at University of Colorado Hospital has determined that it is necessary to place you inactive on the waiting list. You will be inactivated on the list for non-compliance by not receiving the COVID vaccine. You will have 30 days to begin the vaccination series. If your decision is to refuse COVID vaccination you will be removed from the kidney transplant list. You will continue to accrue waiting time, but you will not receive a kidney offer while listed inactive. Once you complete the COVID vaccination series you will be reactivated on the kidney transplant list pending any other changes in your health condition."
Lutali told KOAA, "I feel coerced. I feel like my life is being held in their hands in exchange for a shot, and the attitude is just take the shot."
UCHealth told Denver 7 in a statement, "An organ transplant is a unique surgery that leads to a lifetime of specialized management to ensure an organ is not rejected, which can lead to serious complications, the need for a subsequent transplant surgery, or even death. Physicians must consider the short- and long-term health risks for patients as they consider whether to recommend an organ transplant."
"Transplant centers across the nation," it went on, "including the UCHealth Transplant Center, have specific requirements in place to protect patients both during and after surgery. For example, patients may be required to receive vaccinations including hepatitis B, MMR and others. Patients may also be required to avoid alcohol, stop smoking, or prove they will be able to continue taking their anti-rejection medications long after their transplant surgery. These requirements increase the likelihood that a transplant will be successful and the patient will avoid rejection."
"In almost all situations," UCHealth wrote, "transplant recipients and living donors at UCHealth are now required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in addition to meeting other health requirements and receiving additional vaccinations. Some U.S. transplant centers already have this requirement in place, and others are making this change in policy now."
"Patients who have received a transplanted organ are at significant risk from COVID-19. Should they become infected, they are at particularly high risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death. Studies have found transplant patients who contract COVID-19 may have a mortality rate of 20% or higher. A living donor could pass COVID-19 infection on to an organ recipient even if they initially test negative for the disease, putting the patient’s life at risk," UCHealth concluded.
One broad study found kidney transplant patients who contracted COVID-19 had a 21 percent mortality rate. Other studies found mortality rates ranging from 18 percent to 32 percent for transplant recipients who acquired COVID-19. For comparison, the CDC says the current mortality rate for everyone who has tested positive is 1.6 percent. This is why it is essential that both the recipient and the living donor be vaccinated and take other precautions prior to undergoing transplant surgery. Surgeries may be postponed until patients take all required precautions in order to give them the best chance at positive outcomes."
In a Facebook Live, Geitner claimed he contacted UCHealth several times to try and get an exception for Lutali. "I've had 2-3 exchanges, actually, a few text messages, a couple of phone calls, a couple of emails in and around this issue. There is very little that UCHealth is prepared to do... an exemption to policy or a change in policy or accommodating or anything else."
According to KOAA, Lutali said that a friend has so far been a match for a kidney, but because both her and the donor refuse to get the jab, UCHealth's policy will not allow them to have the lifesaving procedures.