image

health as it happens

Woman, 65, with end-stage liver disease is denied transplant because she refuses to get vaccinated - Daily Mail

An Ohio woman who refuses to get the COVID-19 vaccine for religious and medical reasons was denied a life-saving transplant because she refuses to get the shot, but the hospital says she needs it as the transplant would weaken her immune system.

Michelle Vitullo, 65, has been going to the Cleveland Clinic for treatment for her stage 4 liver disease since 2019. At that stage, the liver is permanently damaged and many of its cells turn into scar tissue. 

But she has refused to get the vaccine for religious reasons, and also over fears it could damage her health, with that stance now derailing an urgently-needed transplant.

Despite the drama, Vitullo is still refusing to have the vaccine, and is now hoping another hospital might perform the procedure instead.  

Michelle Vitullo, 65, has stage 4 liver disease and was denied a lifesaving transplant this month

  • Copy link to paste in your message

Michelle Vitullo, 65, has stage 4 liver disease and was denied a lifesaving transplant this month

Vitullo was initially excited on learning that her daughter Angela Green was an exact match. 

Doctors were set to remove part of her liver and use it to save her mother when the entire procedure was suddenly called off at the end of September, around two weeks before the surgery was scheduled. 

'We were told to get ready,' Green, 43, told WJW in Cleveland. 'Then we get the news we were taken off the list and we can't do it without the vaccine and it was heartbreaking.'  

The Cleveland Clinic released a statement saying that it recently began requiring organ donors and transplant candidates to be vaccinated.

The hospital requires a COVID-19 vaccine for donors and recipients, but Michelle, her husband Jim and their daughter Angela believe the vaccine is a 'big mistake'

  • Copy link to paste in your message

The hospital requires a COVID-19 vaccine for donors and recipients, but Michelle, her husband Jim and their daughter Angela believe the vaccine is a 'big mistake'

Angela, who was going to donate portion of her liver to her mother, says she's worried about 'adverse reactions like blood clotting and heart problems' from the vaccine

  • Copy link to paste in your message

Angela, who was going to donate portion of her liver to her mother, says she's worried about 'adverse reactions like blood clotting and heart problems' from the vaccine

Woman denied liver transplant because she refused COVID-19 vaccine

Loaded: 0%

Progress: 0%

0:00

LIVE

'For the living donor, preventing COVID-19 infection around the time of a surgical operation is crucial,' the world-renown hospital said.

'For the transplant candidate, in addition to a major operation, medications taken after an organ transplant weaken a person's immune response. Serious complications of COVID-19 are most likely to develop in those individuals who have weakened immune systems, as their body has a reduced ability to fight and recover from infections.'

The entire family is suddenly facing the prospect that Michelle may not get better  - though they still refuse to get the vaccine.

'It's just wrong,' said Jim, Michelle's husband. 'And I thought, "How can you do that to somebody?"' 

Jim told station WJW that the family did everything to follow the rules at great expense.

'They had us sign an agreement that we would live within one hour of the Cleveland Clinic, I had to quit my job because of all the visits, ended up sleeping literally hundreds of days in my car in the carport there because of the expense,' he said.

The entire family, including daughter Angela, oppose the vaccine for medical and religious reasons.   

'To us, it’s a big mistake. It’s against our beliefs,' Jim said.

'We’ve heard of adverse reactions like blood clotting and heart problems,' Angela said.

The world-renown Cleveland Clinic requires vaccines for donors an recipients, citing the weak immune system caused by medications taken before a transplant

  • Copy link to paste in your message

The world-renown Cleveland Clinic requires vaccines for donors an recipients, citing the weak immune system caused by medications taken before a transplant

'It's just wrong,' said Jim Vitullo. 'And I thought, How can you do that to somebody?'

  • Copy link to paste in your message

'It's just wrong,' said Jim Vitullo. 'And I thought, "How can you do that to somebody?"'

'Those are not supposed to happen from a vaccine and we don’t feel comfortable taking on that many risks.'

The Clinic had already performed rigorous testing on the mother-daughter donor-patient duo. Michelle had undergone treatments to stabilize her health and they were ready for surgery at the end of September when the procedure was cancelled less than two weeks later.

In April, the Centers for Disease Control lifted a temporary pause on the Johnson Johnson one-dose vaccine after reports of six cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot after they got the vaccine. 

By May 12, the number had grown to 28 people, including three deaths, though 9 million doses had been administered, according to the New York Times.

The CDC and other health officials still recommend the vaccines and argue that benefits far outweigh risks.

'The FDA-authorized vaccines have been determined to be safe and effective and are the best way to prevent severe illness and death from COVID-19,' the clinic said.

'I feel bad because my grandkids, they say, Grandma, we’re praying for you to get better. It breaks my heart because now I have to tell them I may not get better,' Michelle said

  • Copy link to paste in your message

'I feel bad because my grandkids, they say, "Grandma, we’re praying for you to get better." It breaks my heart because now I have to tell them I may not get better,' Michelle said

Michelle Vitullo has stage 4 liver disease, in which the liver may become enlarged or shrink, liver cells are replaced by scar tissue, and the liver cannot function properly

  • Copy link to paste in your message

Michelle Vitullo has stage 4 liver disease, in which the liver may become enlarged or shrink, liver cells are replaced by scar tissue, and the liver cannot function properly

In Stage 4 liver disease, the liver may become enlarged or shrink, liver cells are replaced by scar tissue, and the liver cannot function properly, according to Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles

Cirrhosis, as it's also known, can be fatal and is typically the final stage before a transplant becomes necessary, according to the hospital. Patients with cirrhosis are also at higher risk of developing lung cancer.

In a liver transplant with a living donor, the donor's remaining liver regrows and returns to its normal size, volume and capacity within a couple of months after the surgery, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The transplanted liver portion grows within the recipient and restores normal liver function. 

The liver is responsible for storing glycogen, which the body needs for energy, making bile, which helps digest fats, making substances that help blood to clot and repair damaged tissues, helping the body fight infections and removing alcohol and toxins from the body, according to the UK's National Health Service. 

Michelle and her daughter broke down in tears when they thought about what might happen without the surgery.

'I don’t think they do care,' said Michelle, 'I feel bad because my grandkids, they say, "Grandma, we’re praying for you to get better." It breaks my heart because now I have to tell them I may not get better.' 

Also in Cleveland, University Hospitals said the vaccine is required for transplant patients, while MetroHealth recommends it but does not mandate it.

In similar circumstances, a woman with stage 5 renal failure was denied a transplant at the University of Colorado Hospital this month because neither she nor her donor had the COVID-19 vaccine.

Leilani Lutali, 56, who has stage-5 renal failure has been denied a life-saving kidney transplant because she and her prospective donor are unvaccinated due to religious beliefs

  • Copy link to paste in your message

Leilani Lutali, 56, who has stage-5 renal failure has been denied a life-saving kidney transplant because she and her prospective donor are unvaccinated due to religious beliefs 

'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 Jaimee Fougner, 45, who met Lutali in a bible study and decided to donate her kidney to her friend

  • Copy link to paste in your message

'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 Jaimee Fougner, 45, who met Lutali in a bible study and decided to donate her kidney to her friend

Leilani Lutali and her donor Jaimee Fougner met at Bible study 10 months ago. They also oppose the shots because of a combination of religious and medical reasons.

The hospital gave them 30 days to begin the vaccine series, and Lutali said she would sign a 'waiver' if it meant not having to get the vaccine.

'I said I’ll sign a medical waiver,' she told KCNC. 

'I have to sign a waiver anyway for the transplant itself, releasing them from anything that could possibly go wrong. 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.'

The pair said they didn't know they needed the shot until the last minute.

'At the end of August, they confirmed that there was no COVID shot needed at that time,' Lutali told KCNC. 

'Fast forward to September 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.'

As of October 7, they were looking at hospitals out of state to complete the procedure. 

Earlier this month, a helicopter meant to take 29-year-old Gabriela Acuna from Las Vegas to Los Angeles for a double-lung transplant took off without her because Nevada Medicaid would not pay for the procedure.  

The state insurer does not cover lung transplants, according to its policies.

Acuna was unvaccinated for COVID-19, with her sister saying she was waiting for the go-ahead from her OBGYN.