A second woman in less than a month has been denied the opportunity to have a life-saving organ transplant simply because she won’t get vaccinated against COVID.
Leilani Lutali, 56, from Colorado has been denied the chance to have a kidney transplant after the hospital that would have been performing the operation refused to treat her because she hadn’t had the coronavirus vaccine.
Lutali who has stage 5 kidney disease, desperately needs transplant to save her life but in September, Colorado health system UC Health took her off its organ donation list despite the fact she already had a donor lined up.
UC Health said that Lutali could only remain on the transplant list if she and her donor, Jamiee Fougner, 45, both got vaccinated against COVID.
Lutali, who was approved for the life-saving procedure at the end of August was informed that she no longer qualified to have the transplant performed just one month later.
Leilani Lutali, 56, left was removed from the kidney transplant list because neither she not her friend, Jamiee Fougner, 45, right, who is her organ donor, are vaccinated against covid
Lutali faces stage five kidney failure and has now been removed from the organ recipient because she failed to get vaccinated
The UCHealth hospital denied Leilani Lutali the chance to get a new kidney because of her unvaccinated status. She is currently listed as inactive on the organ waitlist
Leilani Lutali, 56, who has stage-5 renal failure has been denied a life-saving kidney transplant because she and her prospective donor are unvaccinated
‘I was notified that because my donor and myself were unwilling to be vaccinated, that I would not be able to receive my transplant with UC Health in Colorado,’ Lutali explained to Fox News on Thursday night.
‘Initially, it was explained that the policy had changed. That was the major thing. And then when I began probing to understand what my options might be, the gist of it was they were trying to protect my health from coming in and not being vaccinated, that I would have certainly contract covid post-surgery.’
Lutali explained that she had already caught covid naturally in July and had antibodies against the infection but the hospital said that it didn’t count.
She pleaded with them and offered to take a covid test prior to surgery or to allow for a religious exemption. At each turn, she was denied.
‘I asked if I could sign a waiver saying that I understand with the risks that I am taking, and they said no. So, all avenues that I could think of are closed to me,’ Lutali explained.
Her donor, Jamiee Fougner, who was prepared to sacrifice one of her own healthy kidney’s could not understand the hospital’s position.
‘For me, it felt like they are holding my kidney hostage. Here I have a perfectly healthy kidney that I am giving as a gift to Leilani, and they won’t let me give it to her because we won’t be coerced into having the covid-19 vaccine,’ said Jaimee Fougner, 45, who met Lutali in a bible study and decided to donate her kidney to her friend
‘I just thought that it was ridiculous because they are not even testing patients prior to surgery to even try and prevent you from bringing covid into the operating room.
‘For me, it felt like they are holding my kidney hostage. Here I have a perfectly healthy kidney that I am giving as a gift to Leilani, and they won’t let me give it to her because we won’t be coerced into having the covid-19 vaccine,’ Fougner added.
The two met during a Bible study group over the past year and just a few months later, Fougner offered one of her kidneys to Lutali after the two developed a close friendship.
Fougner said she has not received the vaccine for religious reasons, and Lutali hasn’t received the shot because she says there are ‘too many unknowns.’
The women claim they were not informed about the hospital’s policy until it was too late.
Leilani Lutali, foreground, and Jaimee Fougner pose for a photo. Lutali recently found out her hospital wouldn’t approve her kidney transplant surgery until she got the COVID-19 vaccine. Even though she has stage 5 kidney disease that puts her at risk of dying without a new kidney
Leilani Lutali wears a cross around her neck at her home in Colorado Springs, Colorado
Lutali says she has been despondent since receiving the news that she can no longer receive the kidney that will save her life.
Lutali is now turning to hospitals in other states to receive her kidney transplant
‘We were kind of thinking that this might happen before the end of the year, and it was somewhat like running into a brick wall at 90 miles an hour. I really had a lot to digest about what did that mean for my life. Would dialysis be available to me without having the vaccine? I was told yes, but that it was also highly irresponsible of me.’
Lutali, who is a recruiter for tech companies, says it seems like her hospital was so insistent on saving her from COVID-19 that is is willing to let her possibly die by blocking her transplant surgery.
The life expectancy for those with stage-5 kidney failure is about five to 10 years while on dialysis treatment, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
UC Health has released a statement on the situation: ‘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.
‘This is why it is essential that both the recipient and the living donor be vaccinated and take other precautions prior to undergoing surgery. Surgeries may be postponed until patients take all required precautions in order to give them the best chance at positive outcomes.
The Aurora-based hospital said it would be requiring a majority of transplant recipients and living donors to be vaccinated to avoid organ rejection or recipient death due to COVID
The American Hospital Association, which represents nearly 5,000 hospitals, health care systems and networks in the United States, said it did not have data to share on the issue, but it said many transplant programs insist that patients get vaccinated for COVID-19 because of the weakened state of their immune system.
While any type of surgery may stress a patient’s immune system and leave them vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 later, organ transplants recipients are even more at risk because they have to take a powerful regime of drugs to suppress their immune system to keep their body from rejecting the new organ, which is seen by the body as a foreign object,
Lutali and Fougner have now started the transplant application process once again – this time at a different hospital located in the state of Texas where there are no such pre-requisites.
Lutali is not the only person being denied a transplant because of a refusal to get vaccinated.
Michelle Vitullo, 65, has stage 4 liver disease and was denied a lifesaving transplant this month
Last week, an Ohio woman was denied a life-saving transplant because she refuses to get the shot. The hospital says she needs it as the transplant would weaken her immune system.
Michelle Vitullo, 65, has been going to the Cleveland Clinic for treatment for her stage 4 liver disease since 2019. At that stage, the liver is permanently damaged and many of its cells turn into scar tissue.
But she has refused to get the vaccine for religious reasons, and also over fears it could damage her health, with that stance now derailing an urgently-needed transplant.
Despite the drama, Vitullo is still refusing to have the vaccine, and is now hoping another hospital might perform the procedure instead.
The hospital requires a COVID-19 vaccine for donors and recipients, but Michelle, her husband Jim and their daughter Angela believe the vaccine is a ‘big mistake’
Vitullo was initially excited on learning that her daughter Angela Green was an exact match.
Doctors were set to remove part of her liver and use it to save her mother when the entire procedure was suddenly called off at the end of September, around two weeks before the surgery was scheduled.
‘We were told to get ready,’ Green, 43, told WJW in Cleveland. ‘Then we get the news we were taken off the list and we can’t do it without the vaccine and it was heartbreaking.’
The Cleveland Clinic released a statement saying that it recently began requiring organ donors and transplant candidates to be vaccinated.
‘For the living donor, preventing COVID-19 infection around the time of a surgical operation is crucial,’ the world-renown hospital said.
‘For the transplant candidate, in addition to a major operation, medications taken after an organ transplant weaken a person’s immune response. Serious complications of COVID-19 are most likely to develop in those individuals who have weakened immune systems, as their body has a reduced ability to fight and recover from infections.’
The entire family is suddenly facing the prospect that Michelle may not get better – though they still refuse to get the vaccine.
Michelle Vitullo has stage 4 liver disease, in which the liver may become enlarged or shrink, liver cells are replaced by scar tissue, and the liver cannot function properly
In Stage 4 liver disease, the liver may become enlarged or shrink, liver cells are replaced by scar tissue, and the liver cannot function properly, according to Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles
Cirrhosis, as it’s also known, can be fatal and is typically the final stage before a transplant becomes necessary, according to the hospital. Patients with cirrhosis are also at higher risk of developing lung cancer.
In a liver transplant with a living donor, the donor’s remaining liver regrows and returns to its normal size, volume and capacity within a couple of months after the surgery, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The transplanted liver portion grows within the recipient and restores normal liver function.