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Texas welcomes patients denied lifesaving organ transplants in Colorado because of COVID vaccination status

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With hospitals in Colorado denying unvaccinated patients organ transplants, more people are looking to Texas in the hopes of obtaining the potentially life-saving procedure. 

Colorado’s UCHealth recently told Dawn McLaughlin, a woman with polycystic kidney disease, she was being kicked off the waitlist to receive a transplant because she hadn’t gotten the COVID vaccine, CBS4 reported.

And earlier this month, another Colorado woman, Leilani Lutali, despite having stage 5 kidney disease, found out her hospital won’t approve her kidney transplant surgery until she’s gotten the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Leilani Lutali, foreground, and Jaimee Fougner pose for a photo, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021 in Colorado Springs, Colo. 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, foreground, and Jaimee Fougner pose for a photo, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021 in Colorado Springs, Colo. 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.
(AP Photo/Thomas Peipert)

Colorado’s health system, UCHealth, explained that transplant patients who contract COVID-19 have a 20 to 30% mortality rate. 

“This shows the extreme risk that COVID-19 poses to transplant recipients after their surgeries,” UCHealth told Fox News in a statement.  

UCHealth said patients who have undergone an organ transplant procedure require a lifetime of specialized management to ensure the organ is not rejected – which, in extreme cases, can lead to death. 

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“Physicians must consider the short- and long-term health risks for patients as they consider whether to recommend an organ transplant,” UCHealth said.

It noted that other transplant policies have been putting similar policies in place. 

Now, many Texans – including the governor himself – are saying those denied transplants will be welcome in the Lone Star state. 

FILE: A healthcare worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

FILE: A healthcare worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, Fil)

“Here in Texas, vaccines remain voluntary and never forced,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office told Fox News in a statement. “Anyone being denied critical, life-saving organ transplants is welcome here in Texas, where one’s rights and freedoms are always protected.” 

“Here in Texas, vaccines remain voluntary and never forced. Anyone being denied critical, live-saving organ transplants is welcome here in Texas, where one’s rights and freedoms are always protected.”

Texas State Rep. Briscoe Cain, a Republican, told Fox News he was happy that Texas hospitals have, for now at least, “chosen to put patients before politics.” 

“It seems too many in the medical professional have forgotten their oaths,” he said. 

Meanwhile, the Niklas Organ Donor Awareness Foundation, based in Grand Prairie, Texas, is offering to help people like McLaughlin and Lutali find housing while they await organ transplants in Texas. 

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Debaun told Fox News that he is personally not against the vaccine – having gotten it himself – but believes doing so should be “a personal choice.” 

“It’s not up to the government to dictate whether you do, whether you don’t (get the vaccine),” Debaun said. 

He remains unpersuaded by UCHealth’s data showing that unvaccinated patients are at higher risk of mortality if they contract COVID after an organ transplant.   

“If someone’s waiting for an organ transplant, if they don’t get a transplant, they’re going to die,” Debaun said. 

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Debaun received a heart transplant in 1993 and said he is grateful for the years he was given. 

“I’ve been given 28 years of life. My boys were 8 and 11 years old, and I’ve gotten to see my kids grow up. I now have grandkids,” Debaun told Fox News. “My philosophy is that I need to earn every single day that I’ve got. So, we just try to help any way we can help.” 

Fox News’ Stephanie Pagones contributed to this report.

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