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UCHealth requires transplant patient to get COVID-19 vaccine, Colorado state rep speaks out

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- A Colorado Springs woman who is waiting on a life-saving kidney transplant is being taken off the transplant list at UCHealth.

Leilani Lutali has a willing donor, but both she and her potential donor are being taken off the list because they are both unvaccinated. 

Lutali has stage five kidney disease and is in desperate need of a transplant. She claims she has already had covid, but won't be getting vaccinated for religious reasons.

"I was the one that had to break the news to Leilani and we were just devastated that somebody could take her life away from her because of a vaccine," potential donor Jaimee Fougner told KRDO.

Fougner and Lutali met at a bible study in January. They immediately hit it off, with Fougner planning on saving Lutali's life with a kidney donation. But then, they got a letter in the mail from UCHealth on Sept. 28 telling them they were going to be taken off the list.

"It feels a little bit like my transplant is being held hostage and there's only one decision that I'm being left with," Lutali shared. "And there are other options that we could do, but there's just been a hard-line drawn."

Both Lutali and Fougner are passing on the shot because they don't approve of the way they believe the vaccines were developed.

Dan Weaver, a spokesperson with UCHealth, shared a statement with KRDO saying he couldn't comment on the specific case. Weaver did say transplant patients who contract COVID-19 face higher mortality rates.

"For those who test positive for COVID-19, the mortality death rate is about 1.6%. It’s even less if you consider the people who are infected but who don’t get tested or who are asymptomatic," Weaver said. "For transplant patients who contract COVID-19, the mortality rate ranges from about 20% to more than 30%."

As specific as this case got, Weaver linked to a study in the National Library of Medicine that found kidney transplants who contracted COVID-19 had a 21% mortality rate.

"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," Weaver said. "Surgeries may be postponed until patients take all required precautions in order to give them the best chance at positive outcomes."

Colorado State Rep. Tim Geitner shared the letter on social media, prompting a debate about transplant eligibility and vaccines. He posted a Facebook Live video Tuesday morning supporting them and questioning the policy since Lutali already has COVID antibodies after testing positive.

"It's frustrating when someone finds themselves in what could be an end-of-life situation, and this is the requirement," Geitner, a Republican from El Paso County representing House District 19 told KRDO. "Comply with this covid vaccine or best of luck. I don't think that that's a place where we want to be in the United States."

Geitner said the situation "brings great concern for many of us ... where based on your vaccination status with COVID, that you would actually be denied care." On Geitner's Twitter page, many users expressed agreement with UCHealth's requirement -- flip to his Facebook page, and many users claimed it was "discrimination" and "tyranny."

Weaver said transplant centers across the nation have specific requirements in place, including other vaccinations like "hepatitis B, MMR, and others." He added that "in almost all situations, transplant recipients and living donors at UCHealth are now required to be vaccinated against COVID-19." We're working to find out what other situations would exempt a patient from getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

"I'm not going to change my mind," Lutali said. "I want a choice to be able to make as being a partner in my own health care."

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Spencer Soicher

Spencer is the weekend evening anchor, and a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about him here.


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