COLORADO SPRINGS — Since the first COVID-19 vaccine was made available to Americans late last year, nearly 300 million doses have been administered.
Of those, more than ten million were the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccination. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 32 people experienced severe, adverse health complications involving blood clots. The majority of the reports regarding the serious condition have been in adult women, who are younger than 50 years old. The CDC said the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks.
A Colorado Springs woman is that one in a million when it comes to severe health complications after a Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Kendra Lippy was a healthy, 38-year-old Coloradan, who decided to get vaccinated to protect the people she loves and help the country return to a sense of normalcy. She received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine on March 7. "I remember coming home after and raising my hands, and telling my parents I got vaccinated, which was exciting," said Lippy.
Lippy said a week passed, and on March 15, she experienced a headache unlike any other. "It was so bad, that it felt like needles piercing my brain," said Lippy.
Lippy said by the end of that week, she was also dealing with abdominal pain. On Friday night, "I came home, fell asleep, and then woke up at 11:30 vomiting. And it was bad, and I came out of the bathroom on all fours, and I asked my dad to get my mom, and I said something's wrong," explained Lippy.
She went to the hospital on March 19, and on March 20, fell into a coma. "The next thing I remember is waking up 22 days later in the ICU. I had no idea what had happened, no idea what was going on, none of that," said Lippy, who attributes her sudden sickness to the vaccine.
Lippy told News5 she woke up from her coma on April 11, two days before the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was temporarily halted on April 13 to investigate reports of dangerous blood clots. Lippy finally came home from the hospital on April 21. "I got blood clots that, ultimately, killed my small intestine, only leaving me with 90 centimeters. I had them in my legs as well, and then as well as in my lungs... I don't have the small part of my small intestine, so I have the beginning and the end. So, there's things that I can't process, things that I can't eat right," said Lippy.
90 centimeters is just under three feet long, and the average small intestine is 22 feet long.
When Lippy finally woke up, her mother said she did not immediately know what was happening. It took a few days to completely understand how sick she was, that she had surgery, and how long she had been in the hospital.
"One of the first questions she asked was, 'Did I miss Easter mom?' And I said yes, you did miss Easter," said Debbie Lippy.
Her mother never could have thought this would happen to her daughter. "I just don't know how I survived all those days, because I just didn't know, and I just would say, Lord, please don't take her... I would whisper in her ear, you know, Kendra you need to fight, and I love you," said Debbie Lippy, who has received the Moderna vaccine without any complications.
Lippy said doctors had been giving her a blood thinner called heparin to treat her blood clots. However, the CDC now says heparin could be dangerous to administer to a patient in Lippy's situation. "Heparin is actually putting poison in my body," said Lippy, who has since been prescribed a different blood thinner.
Lippy said she still has blood clots in her liver, which doctors are monitoring.
Lippy's lawyer, Stephen Justino, said he has a history of handling negligence claims against the United States government. "If the government is going to ask us to participate in this big test study, and someone like Kendra is seriously injured, suffering life-changing complications, the government should step in and fully and fairly compensate her for doing the right thing," said Justino.
Justino explained that vaccine producers essentially have blanket immunity from liability. He said the system available to help people in Lippy's position is called the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP). According to Justino, the CICP denies nine of every ten claims it receives. "I think is going to fail, because it's so small that it can't handle the caseload. And it so poorly compensates people," said Justino.
For someone in Lippy's position with a COVID-19 vaccine injury, Justino said they are entitled to get both medical expenses and lost earnings reimbursed. However, he said there is no guarantee the claim will be approved by the CICP. Justino said Lippy's medical bills total to around one million dollars at the moment. Lippy does not have health insurance. "She has a lifetime of challenges ahead of her that are one in a million," said Justino.
Justino said the CICP has no compensation for non-economic damages, like pain and suffering or emotional distress. He called the CICP a "terrible system."
Lippy's claim must be filed within one year of her vaccination date. Justino said they are in the process of gathering Lippy's medical records to accompany the claim, which total to around 4,000 pages. On top of that, Justino said they need to local any medical records of Lippy's from the year prior to her injury. Once everything has been submitted to the CICP, the program must determine if it is a compensable injury and if it was caused by the vaccine.
Justino said he recently asked the Department of Health and Human Services if the legal protections vaccines have would change when they receive full approval. Apparently, the department responded and said the vaccines would not automatically lose their immunity with full approval.
Justino hopes Lippy's story can be used to spur political action. Lippy would like to see a system in place that is fair, transparent, and compensates people in similar situations. Justino wants to try and set up meetings with U.S. Senators Hickenlooper or Bennet to discuss a plan to create a safety net for people experiencing severe health complications following a vaccination.
To alert the CDC to any side effects experienced following a vaccine, individuals can use the V-safe After Vaccination Health Checker.
The video version of this article has the incorrect number of pages of Lippy's medical records from her hospitalization. It is 4,000 pages.