File photo by Tracey Ferguson/via AP
MENDON, Mass. – A Boston hospital is defending itself after a man’s family claims he was denied a new heart for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19, saying most transplant programs in across the country are setting similar requirements to improve patients’ chances of survival.
DJ Ferguson’s family said in a crowdfunding appeal this week that officials at Brigham and Women’s Hospital told the 31-year-old father-of-two he was ineligible for the procedure because he had no been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“We’re literally in a corner right now. It’s extremely urgent,” the family said in their fundraising appeal, which raised tens of thousands of dollars. “It’s not just a political issue. People must have a choice!”
DJ’s mother, Tracey Ferguson, insists her son is not against vaccinations, noting that he has had other vaccinations in the past. But the trained nurse said on Wednesday he had been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation – an irregular and often rapid heartbeat – and was worried about side effects from 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 kilometers) southwest of Boston. “He wants to be assured by his doctors that his condition would not be worse or fatal with this COVID vaccine.”
The Brigham and Women’s Hospital declined to comment on DJ Ferguson’s case, citing patient privacy laws. But he pointed to a response he posted on his website in which he said the COVID-19 vaccine is one of many vaccinations required by most US transplant programs, including a flu shot. and hepatitis B vaccines.
The hospital said research has shown that transplant recipients are at a higher risk than non-transplant patients of dying from COVID-19, and that its policies are consistent with recommendations from the American Society of Transplantation and other health organizations.
Patients must also meet other health and lifestyle criteria to receive donated organs, and it’s unclear whether DJ Ferguson met them or would have met them.
Brigham & Womens Hospital also emphasized that no patient is placed on an organ waiting list without meeting these criteria, and rejected the idea that a transplant candidate could be considered ” first on the list” for an organ — a claim Ferguson’s family made in their fundraising post.
“There are currently over 100,000 candidates on organ transplant waiting lists and a shortage of available organs – approximately half of those on 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 were not vaccinated against COVID-19.
Last year in Colorado, a woman with advanced kidney disease said she was denied a transplant by her hospital because she was not vaccinated. Leilani Lutali, a born-again Christian, said she opposes vaccination because of the role fetal cell lines play in the development of some vaccines.
Since organ donors are scarce, transplant centers only place on the waiting list those patients they deem most likely to survive with a new organ.
“A donor heart is a precious and rare gift that needs to be nurtured,” said Dr. Howard Eisen, medical director of the Advanced Heart Failure Program at Penn State University in Hershey, Pennsylvania. “Our goal is to preserve patient survival and good outcomes after transplantation.”
The United Network for Organ Sharing, the nonprofit that runs the country’s organ transplant system, does not track the number of patients refusing COVID-19 vaccines who have been denied transplants , said Anne Paschke, spokeswoman for the organization.
She said patients who are denied organ transplants still have the right to go elsewhere, although individual hospitals ultimately decide which patients to add to the national waiting list.
According to the online fundraiser, DJ Ferguson was hospitalized in late November with a heart condition that caused his lungs to fill with blood and fluid. He was later transferred to Brigham and Women’s, where doctors inserted an emergency heart pump which the family says is only meant to be a temporary palliative.
“It’s devastating,” said Tracey Ferguson. “No one ever wants to see their child go through something like this.”