A Boston hospital is defending itself after a man’s family said he was denied a new heart for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19, saying most transplant programs across the country set similar requirements to improve patients’ chances of survival.
DJ Ferguson’s family said in a crowdfunding appeal this week that Brigham and Women’s Hospital officials told the 31-year-old father of two he was not eligible for the procedure because he had not been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“Now we are literally at a dead end. It’s extremely time sensitive,” the family said in their fundraising appeal, which raised tens of thousands of dollars. “This is not only a political issue. People should have a choice!”
The DJ’s mother, Tracey Ferguson, insists her son is not opposed to vaccinations, noting that he has had other vaccinations in the past. But a trained nurse said on Wednesday that he has been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation — an irregular and often rapid heart rate — and that he is concerned about the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“DJ is an informed patient,” Tracey Ferguson said in a brief interview at her home in Mendon, about 30 miles (48 km) southwest of Boston. “He wants his doctors to reassure him that his condition will not worsen or become fatal with this COVID vaccine.”
Brigham and Women’s Hospital declined to comment on the DJ Ferguson case, citing patient privacy laws. But he pointed to a response he posted on his website that says the COVID-19 vaccine is one of several immunizations required by most US transplant programs, including the flu shot and hepatitis B vaccines.
The hospital said studies have shown transplant recipients are at a higher risk of dying from COVID-19 than non-transplant patients and that its policy is in line with recommendations from the American Transplant Society and other health organizations.
Patients must also meet other health and lifestyle criteria in order to receive organ donations, and it is not known if DJ Ferguson would have met them.
Brigham & Womens Hospital also emphasized that no patient is placed on an organ waiting list without meeting those criteria, and rejected the idea that a transplant candidate could be considered “first on the list” for an organ, a statement made by the Ferguson family in their post. fundraising. .
“Currently, there are more than 100,000 candidates on organ transplant waiting lists, and available organs are in short supply – about half of the people on the waiting lists will not receive an organ within five years,” the hospital said.
Hospitals in other states have faced similar criticism for denying transplants to patients who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Last year in Colorado, a woman suffering from advanced kidney disease said her hospital denied her a transplant because she had not been vaccinated. Leilani Lutali, a born-again Christian, said she opposes immunization because of the role that fetal cell lines play in the development of some vaccines.
Donor organs are in short supply, so transplant centers only place on a waiting list those patients they think are most likely to survive with a new organ.
“A donated heart is a precious and rare gift that needs to be well cared for,” said Dr. Howard Eisen, medical director of the Advanced Heart Failure Program at Pennsylvania State University in Hershey, Pennsylvania. “Our goal is to maintain patient survival and good outcomes after transplantation.”
The United Network for Organ Sharing, a non-profit organization that operates the country’s organ transplant system, does not keep track of how many patients who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine are denied transplants, spokeswoman Ann Paschke said.
She said patients who are denied organ transplants still have the right to go elsewhere, though individual hospitals ultimately decide which patients to add to the national waiting list.
According to an online fundraiser, DJ Ferguson was hospitalized in late November due to a heart condition that caused his lungs to fill with blood and fluid. He was then transferred to Brigham and Women’s, where doctors inserted an emergency heart pump, which the family says is only a temporary measure.
“It’s devastating,” Tracey Ferguson said. “No one ever wants their child to go through something like this.”