COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A Colorado Springs woman who is waiting on a life-saving surgery will be taken off the transplant list at UCHealth due to her vaccination status.

Leilani Lutali has a willing donor, but they are both unvaccinated, a policy UCHealth won’t budge on. Lutali received the below letter last week stating that she was placed as inactive on the waiting list and if she would refuse the COVID-19 vaccination then she would be removed from the kidney transplant list altogether.

Lutali said she’s glad by sharing her story that it’s bringing a light to this situation and hopes it helps others in the process. She told FOX21 News that she’s heard from other patients who have been refused necessary surgeries because they can’t get vaccinated.

“I have too many questions that remain unanswered at this point,” Lutali said. “I feel like I’m being coerced into not being able to wait and see and I have to take the shot if I want this life-saving transplant.”

Lutali’s in desperate need of a transplant since she’s in stage 5 of Chronic Kidney Disease which means her kidney is functioning at 14%.

“If I’m not allowed to get a transplant basically my life is in jeopardy,” Lutali added.

She met her friend who volunteered to be her donor at bible study. However, Jamiee Fougner is also not vaccinated because of her religious beliefs as well.

“I explained that no I wouldn’t be able to take the COVID shot, then the comment was then your journey ends here because we require all of our donors and all of our recipients to have the covid-19 vaccine,” Fougner said.

Lutali claims she already had COVID-19 and won’t get the vaccine because of religious concerns and concerns the vaccine would not be effective after receiving immunosuppressant drugs post-surgery.

“If I probably came down with a second case of COVID it would probably be minimal and my first time around I was almost Asymptomatic so I’m not worried about that piece,” Lutali explained.

She is trying to get the surgery done in other states like Texas or Florida but has to wait for her kidney specialist to refer her.

Colorado State Representative Tim Geitner shared the letter from UCHealth on Facebook which prompted a debate about transplant eligibility and vaccines. In a Live Facebook video Tuesday morning, Rep. Geitner was showing his support and questioning the policy since Lutali already has COVID antibodies.

“Is that 20 or 30 percent survivability or mortality rate with those who have the immunity, I think that is a big question,” Rep. Geitner asked.

He told FOX21 News he couldn’t commit to trying to pass legislation but wants to address this issue.

“Seeing where resolution can’t be found or where pressure can’t be applied and I think that is where my role is at this point,” Rep. Geitner said.

UCHealth Spokesperson Dan Weaver said they could not share or confirm any information regarding a specific patient.

Note that among the general population, 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.) 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. Also note the other requirements listed below for transplant candidates. Other transplant centers have started putting similar policies in place.

UCHealth’s priority is to provide excellent, safe care for transplant patients before, during and after a transplant surgery.

An organ transplant is a unique surgery that leads to a lifetime of specialized management to ensure an organ is not rejected, which can lead to serious complications, the need for a subsequent transplant surgery, or even death. Physicians must consider the short- and long-term health risks for patients as they consider whether to recommend an organ transplant.

Transplant centers across the nation, including the UCHealth Transplant Center, have specific requirements in place to protect patients both during and after surgery. For example, patients may be required to receive vaccinations including hepatitis B, MMR and others. Patients may also be required to avoid alcohol, stop smoking, or prove they will be able to continue taking their anti-rejection medications long after their transplant surgery. These requirements increase the likelihood that a transplant will be successful and the patient will avoid rejection.

In almost all situations, transplant recipients and living donors at UCHealth are now required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in addition to meeting other health requirements and receiving additional vaccinations. Some U.S. transplant centers already have this requirement in place, and others are making this change in policy now. 

Patients who have received a transplanted organ are at significant risk from COVID-19. Should they become infected, they are at particularly high risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death. Studies have found transplant patients who contract COVID-19 may have a mortality rate of 20% or higher. A living donor could pass COVID-19 infection on to an organ recipient even if they initially test negative for the disease, putting the patient’s life at risk.

One broad study [] found kidney transplant patients who contracted COVID-19 had a 21% mortality rate. Other studies found mortality rates ranging from 18% to 32% for transplant recipients who acquired COVID-19. For comparison, the CDC says the current mortality rate for everyone who has tested positive is 1.6%. 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. Surgeries may be postponed until patients take all required precautions in order to give them the best chance at positive outcomes.

UCHealth Communications Vice President Dan Weaver