The family of a Massachusetts man who claims he’s been denied a heart transplant because he’s not vaccinated against COVID-19 is speaking out this week, saying they are devastated over a hospital policy that says he isn’t eligible to have the procedure.
David Ferguson Jr., known as D.J., had been receiving treatment at hospitals around Boston since late November after suffering complications from atrial fibrillation and deteriorating heart failure, according to a fundraising appeal set up by his mother, Tracey Ferguson.
The 31-year-old was told by Brigham & Women’s Hospital officials that he was ineligible for the transplant, according to the fundraising post, because he had not been vaccinated against the deadly virus.
The Ferguson family has been active online and in the media about D.J.’s story.
“My son has gone to the edge of death to stick to his guns and he’s been pushed to the limit,” D.J.’s father, David Ferguson, told WBZ earlier this week. The family also appeared on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox Wednesday where they commended the care Ferguson was receiving at Brigham and Women’s, but expressed frustration over the transplant policy.
“It sucks because his nurses have been amazing to him, his doctors have been amazing to him,” Heather Dawson, Ferguson’s partner, told Carlson.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital has declined to comment on Ferguson’s case, citing patient privacy laws. But the policy posted on its website states: “Our Mass General Brigham healthcare system requires several CDC-recommended vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine, and lifestyle behaviors for transplant candidates to create both the best chance for a successful operation and to optimize the patient’s survival after transplantation, given that their immune system is drastically suppressed. Patients are not active on the waitlist without this.”
Research shows that transplant recipients are at a much higher risk of dying from COVID-19 when compared to non-transplant patients, the Brigham policy states. The guidance is in line with that of the American Society of Transplantation, American Society of Transplant Surgeons, and International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation.
“Like most other transplant programs across the country, the COVID-19 vaccine is one of several vaccines and lifestyle behaviors that are required for patients awaiting solid organ transplant,” the policy states.
There are currently more than 100,000 candidates on waitlists for organ transplantation and there’s a shortage of organs available. “Around half of people on waiting lists will not receive an organ within 5 years,” the hospital policy says.
In a post on Facebook linking to another fundraising campaign on GoFundMe, Dawson noted where her family stands on the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Is my family vaccinated? No. Do I need to explain why? No. Do we care if you’re vaccinated? No,” Dawson wrote. “Is DJ in a position where he now needs a vaccine to get a life saving procedure? Yes. Is he going to chose to die instead of getting it? No.”
In an interview with the Associated Press, Tracey Ferguson said her son isn’t against vaccinations but he has concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine because of his heart condition.
“D.J. is an informed patient,” Tracey Ferguson told AP. “He wants to be assured by his doctors that his condition would not be worse or fatal with this COVID vaccine.”
According to ABC News and to the GoFundMe post, D.J. underwent open-heart surgery on Tuesday where a pump was inserted that will “mechanically pump his heart until a donor heart becomes available.” In the Carlson interview, David Ferguson said his son’s surgery took seven hours. “So now my boy has a pump,” he said, “he’s in recovery.”
The Fergusons told ABC News the pump promises to keep D.J. alive for as long as five years.
Hospitals in other states also have policies stating that patients who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19 are ineligible for transplant procedures. In Colorado last year, a woman suffering from late-stage kidney disease said she was denied a transplant by her hospital because she was unvaccinated, according to the AP.
Brittany Bowker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @brittbowker and on Instagram @brittbowker.