A Colorado woman with stage 5 renal failure is scrambling to find a new hospital to perform a kidney transplant after a health system in the state denied the transplant due to her and her donor being unvaccinated against the coronavirus.
"Here I am, willing to be a direct donor to her. It does not affect any other patient on the transplant list," Jaimee Fougner, Leilani Lutali’s kidney donor, told CBS4. "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?"
Lutali said she received a letter from Colorado health system UCHealth at the end of September explaining that she and Fougner have 30 days to begin the vaccine process. They would be removed from the kidney transplant list if they refuse the shots.
"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."
In August, Lutali said the hospital told her that the vaccine would not be a prerequisite to get the surgery.
"At the end of August, they confirmed that there was no COVID shot needed at that time," Lutali told CBS4. "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."
Lutali met Fougner 10 months ago at a Bible study. Lutali said she has not received the vaccine because there are too many unknowns yet, while Fougner has not gotten the shot over religious reasons.
"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," Fougner added.
UCHealth said it implemented the vaccine policy for the safety and health of its patients.
"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," the health system told CBS4. The health system also noted that patients have been required to receive other vaccines, such as for hepatitis B, to help ensure a transplant won’t be rejected.
Lutali and Fougner are now looking at hospitals outside of Colorado to perform the transplant.