COLORADO SPRINGS — UCHealth hospital system now requires COVID-19 vaccines for organ transplant patients and living donors.
Those with UCHealth said the policy is based on research which shows transplant patients have a much higher risk of dying if they are not fully vaccinated before their surgery.
A local grandmother, Jill McGuffin, said the new requirement is adding on another delay in her search for a kidney transplant. News5's Colette Bordelon first met McGuffin and her daughter, Kori Rogers, in November of 2019.
"We were expecting the call any day. And then she got the call that said, if you don't get your vaccine, you are not getting a kidney transplant."
McGuffin said her journey started five years ago when she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell. The family found out about the diagnosis when her kidneys failed, which they said is connected to the cancer.
McGuffin went through a stem cell transplant in December of 2016, and her cancer went into remission. She said her doctors wanted her cancer in remission for three years before looking for a kidney donor. McGuffin and her family have been searching for a donor for the past two years.
"She's been waiting for five years. Dialysis is the worst thing to her. She's ready for a kidney and it was like a bomb dropped on us," said McGuffin's daughter, Rogers.
The two told News5 there have been many times when McGuffin came close to getting her kidney transplant. "She's at the top of the list, she's so close. We've had two false alarms... She has 8% function between both of her kidneys. There's no room for anything to go wrong," explained Rogers.
Late last week, Rogers said they were notified that McGuffin must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before having a transplant surgery. "We were under the assumption that it was best to not have her get the vaccine, and then it was just sprung on us one day. If you don't get it, you're not getting a transplant. So, we felt like we had no other choice," said Rogers.
McGuffin said one of her doctors who she has known for years originally told her not to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Now, that doctor's recommendation has changed. "All doctors have approved it, but in our minds, because we were told this, it scares us to death," said Rogers.
McGuffin said she will do everything she can to get her kidney transplant, and received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Monday. She said she did not really feel she had a choice."I get my next one on October 28, and then it's on: I'm getting a transplant," said McGuffin.
According to McGuffin, she is not eligible for a transplant surgery until she is fully vaccinated, meaning she must wait until 14 days after her second dose.
Rogers said since her mother was not vaccinated, she was moved to the inactive organ transplant list. "She's at the top of the list. We don't have time. God forbid we're going to lose her spot on this list because of a vaccine," said Rogers.
Those with Donate Life Colorado said every transplant center and surgeon will have specific requirements in place before and after surgery to protect patients, which can include avoiding alcohol, stopping smoking, and requiring various vaccines.
Donate Life Colorado reports there are over 2,000 Coloradans on the waiting list for an organ transplant, and more than 100,000 waiting across the nation.