AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) - A Colorado woman with stage 5 renal failure was months away from getting a new kidney. Now, she and her donor are looking for another hospital after learning UCHealth's new policy.
According to UCHealth, the majority of transplant recipients and living donors are now required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Neither woman has received their shots.
Leilani Lutali met her donor, Jaimee Fougner, in Bible study just 10 months ago.
"It's your choice on what treatment you have. In Leilani's case, the choice has been taken from her. Her life has now been held hostage because of this mandate," said Fougner.
Fougner says she hasn't received the vaccine for religious reasons. Lutali hasn't gotten the shot because she says there are too many unknowns. Until last week, neither woman thought they needed to be vaccinated for the transplant.
"At the end of August, they confirmed that there was no COVID shot needed at that time," said Lutali. "Fast forward to Sept. 28. That's when I found out. Jamie learned they have this policy around the COVID shot for both for the donor and the recipient."
The women received this letter from UCHealth:
UCHealth says they are "non-compliant by not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine." The hospital has given them 30 days to begin the vaccine series. If they refuse, they will be removed from the kidney transplant list.
"I said I'll sign a medical waiver. I have to sign a waiver anyway for the transplant itself, releasing them from anything that could possibly go wrong," said Lutali. "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 recently implemented the policy to protect the health of its patients.
In a statement, UCHealth said:
"For transplant patients who contract COVID-19, the mortality rate ranges from about 20% to more than 30%. This shows the extreme risk that COVID-19 poses to transplant recipients after their surgeries"
UCHealth and transplant centers across the nation have requirements in place to protect surgical patients. For example, patients can be required to receive other vaccinations like hepatitis B and MMR, and even make lifestyle changes. UCHealth says these requirements increase the likelihood that a transplant will be successful and the patient will avoid rejection.
"Here I am, willing to be a direct donor to her. It does not affect any other patient on the transplant list," said Fougner. "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?"
The women haven't been able to find a hospital in Colorado that will do the transplant while they're unvaccinated. They're now looking at other states.
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