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Boston hospital denies patient heart transplant due to COVID-19 vaccine status

por John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | January 27, 2022
Cardiology Operating Room
A hospital in Boston refuses to give a patient a heart transplant because he will not get vaccinated
A Boston hospital has said no to a patient for a heart transplant until he agrees to get vaccinated.

DJ Ferguson, 31, suffers from a hereditary heart issue that causes his lungs to fill with blood and fluid, and has been in hospital since Thanksgiving. He is in desperate need of a heart transplant and was at the front of the line for one, only to be told that he was no longer eligible under Brigham and Women’s Hospital policy because he had not received the vaccine, according to CBS Boston.

DJ’s father, David Ferguson, said his son “has gone to the edge of death to stick to his guns, and he’s been pushed to the limit” in his refusal to get the shot. "It's kind of against his basic principles — he doesn't believe in it. It's a policy they are enforcing and so, because he won't get the shot, they took him off the list [for] a heart transplant."

The COVID-19 vaccine is one of several vaccines and life behavioral requirements for transplant candidates in the Mass General Brigham system, according to the hospital. It says that the shot creates the best chance for a successful operation and also for the patient’s survival after the transplant.

"Given the shortage of available organs, we do everything we can to ensure that a patient who receives a transplanted organ has the greatest chance of survival,” it said in a statement to the BBC.

The CDC recommends that transplant recipients and those frequently around them get fully vaccinated and boosted. The organizer of a GoFundMe set up for Ferguson says that he is concerned that getting the vaccine could cause him to experience cardiac inflammation, a potential side effect from it. The CDC says such an effect is rare and temporary, but Ferguson believes that it might be dangerous in his case due to the weakness of his heart.

Dr. Arthur Caplan, the head of medical ethics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, agrees with the hospital. “Post any transplant, kidney, heart whatever, your immune system is shut off. The flu could kill you, a cold could kill you, COVID could kill you. The organs are scarce, we are not going to distribute them to someone who has a poor chance of living when others who are vaccinated have a better chance post-surgery of surviving,” he told CBS Boston.

While organs may be in short supply, a new advancement may help salvage this predicament. Earlier this month, surgeons at the University of Maryland School of Medicine implanted the first genetically modified pig heart into the chest of a 57-year-old man who was deemed ineligible for a conventional transplant.

The breakthrough transplant proved that an animal heart can be used in place of a human one without immediate rejection — the dominant risk in any transplant surgery. The surgery is the next step in “solving the organ shortage crisis,” said Dr. Bartley P. Griffith, who led the team that transplanted the pig heart.

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