Leilani Lutali: Unvaxxed Colorado woman with renal failure denied kidney transplant

Jaimee Fougner, who is donating a kidney to Lutali, said she hasn't received the vaccine for religious reasons

                            Leilani Lutali: Unvaxxed Colorado woman with renal failure denied kidney transplant
(Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

Leilani Lutali, a Colorado woman with stage five renal failure was months away from getting a new kidney. She reportedly met her donor, Jaimee Fougner, in a Bible study just ten months ago. Now, she and her donor are looking for another hospital because of the University of Colorado Hospital’s policy about vaccinations

According to the hospital, the majority of transplant recipients and living donors are now required to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Neither woman, per news reports, has received their shots. Jaimee Fougner, who is donating a kidney to Lutali, said she hasn't received the vaccine for religious reasons. Lutali said she hasn't gotten the vaccine because there are too many unknowns.


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"For transplant patients who contract Covid-19, the mortality rate ranges from about 20 percent to more than 30 percent," UCHealth said in a statement to CBS Denver. "This shows the extreme risk that Covid-19 poses to transplant recipients after their surgeries."

Lutali was sent letters from the UCHealth Transplant Center at its Anschutz Medical Campus on September 28 that said the procedure would not be performed without them getting vaccinated. “The transplant team at University of Colorado Hospital has determined that it is necessary to place you inactive on the waiting list. You will be inactivated on the list for non-compliance by not receiving the Covid vaccine. You will have 30 days to begin the vaccination series.” 

“If your decision is to refuse Covid vaccination you will be removed from the kidney transplant list,” the letter said. “You will continue to accrue waiting time, but you will not receive a kidney offer while listed inactive. Once you complete the Covid vaccination series you will be reactivated on the kidney transplant list pending any other changes in your health condition.”


“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,” said Fougner. Until last week, neither woman thought they needed to be vaccinated for the transplant, they said. “At the end of August, they confirmed that there was no Covid shot needed at that time,” said Lutali. “Fast forward to September 28. That’s when I found out. Jamie learned they have this policy around the Covid shot both for the donor and the recipient.”

“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.”

“Here I am, willing to be a direct donor to her. It does not affect any other patient on the transplant list,” said Fougner. “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?” The women, as per CBS Denver, have been unable to find a hospital in Colorado that will do the transplant while they’re unvaccinated. They’re now looking at other states. "I feel coerced. I feel like my life is being held in their hands in exchange for a shot, and the attitude is just take the shot," Lutali told KOAA.

The letter has gotten a lot of attention, including from State Rep Tim Geitner, a Republican serving El Paso County. "The understanding is basically… conform to this demand. Take this Covid vaccine or otherwise, you will be denied a life-saving procedure," he said. "I've had 2-3 exchanges, actually — a few text messages, a couple of phone calls, a couple of emails — in and around this issue," Geitner said. "There is very little that UCHealth is prepared to do... an exemption to policy or a change in policy or accommodating or anything else."


He also tweeted about it. On Twitter, however, many seemed to feel that the hospital was in the right here. “Rep. Geitner: your take on this is irresponsible. Organs are scarce. Transplant doctors must prioritize those patients likely to survive, and that includes data as to how well a patient is compliant with meds and treatment. Don't make this a political issue, because it isn't,” said one person.

Another tweet said, “It doesn't make sense to give a chronic drinker a liver, and It also doesn't make sense to give someone who's going to die of covid-19 an organ. These rules have existed. This is responsible medical ethics, and representing it any other way is irresponsible and inappropriate.” One person wrote to the Rep, “Frankly, you should be embarrassed to have posted something this bone-headed. OF COURSE being unvaccinated makes a person ineligible - any unhealthy lifestyle choice will. I think you’ll find UCHealth is not the only facility to have this (completely reasonable) policy.”

One person said, “Yes, those with the best chance of long-term survival always get first priority for transplants. It's standard ethical practice, and an immunocompromised patient is at very high risk of severe outcomes or death with COVID-19. Non-vaccination is therefore a valid exclusion.” Another said, “The hoops that transplant patients have to jump though are extensive. You are talking about getting a new organ and you must be a good steward of that gift. Not getting a vaccine does not inspire confidence that you will follow the med regimen required.”