A woman whose kidney transplant was only months away is looking for somewhere she can have the procedure after they learned that the Colorado-based health system UCHealth is denying coverage in "almost all situations" for organ transplants for patients and living donors who have not had their COVID-19 vaccinations.
Leilani Lutali, who suffers from stage 5 renal failure, told CBS4 in Denver that she got a letter on Sept. 28 from UCHealth informing her that the University of Colorado Hospital's transplant team has listed her as inactive on the transplant waiting list because she and her donor did not have their shots.
The letter said Lutali has 30 days to start the vaccination series, and if she refuses to get the shots, she'll be removed from the kidney transplant list until she gets her shots, at which time she'd be reactivated, depending on her health condition at the time.
Lutali told the news station that it was confirmed at the end of August that she and donor Jaimee Fougner, who she met during a Bible study 10 months ago, would not need their COVID-19 shots for the procedure.
"Fast forward to Sept. 28," she said. "That’s when I found out. Jamie learned they have this policy around the COVID shot for both the donor and the recipient."
Fougner said that Lutali's choice has been "taken from her" and that her life is being "held hostage because of this mandate."
Lutali said she did not get vaccinated because she believes there is too much that is unknown, and Fougner said she didn't get the shots because of religious reasons.
Lutali said that she offered to sign a medical waiver about the vaccination.
"I have to sign a waiver anyway for the transplant itself, releasing them from anything that could possibly go wrong," she said. "It’s surgery, it’s invasive. I sign a waiver for my life. I’m not sure why I can’t sign a waiver for the COVID shot."
UCHealth said it implemented the policy recently to protect its patients.
"For transplant patients who contract COVID-19, the mortality rate ranges from about 20% to more than 30%," the company said in a statement. "This shows the extreme risk that COVID-19 poses to transplant recipients after their surgeries”
Transplant centers nationwide have similar requirements for other vaccines such as for Hepatitis B and the MMR vaccine, and UCHealth said the requirements mean a better likelihood that the transplant will succeed and the patient can avoid rejecting the organ.
Fougner, though, said that she's waiting to be a direct donor for Lutali and that the transplant won't affect any other patients.
"How can I sit here and allow them to murder my friend when I’ve got a perfectly good kidney and can save her life?" she said.
Lutali and Fougner have not been able to find another Colorado hospital to do the transplant as long as they have not been vaccinated, so they are researching other states.
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