Life-Saving Kidney Transplant Cancelled Because Donor Is Unvaccinated

An Ohio man's life-saving kidney transplant surgery was canceled because of Cleveland Clinic's new vaccination policy, his wife has said.

Mike Ganim was told his polycystic kidney disease was so advanced that he needed a new kidney around two years ago and, following months of preparation, transplant surgery was scheduled to take place on Wednesday.

But his wife Debi Ganim told WKYC that they were informed on Friday that it would not be going ahead because of the clinic's new policy that requires COVID-19 vaccinations for both transplant recipients and living donors.

Although Mike Ganim is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, his donor is not.

"It made us feel like we were back to square one. I've been terrified," Debi Ganim said. "It's just wrong in so many ways."

The donor, Sue George, is a longtime acquaintance who came forward after Debi Ganim posted a request on Facebook asking people to get a blood test to see if they would be a match for organ donation.

George told the station that doctors at the clinic had known she was not vaccinated and had not said it would be a problem.

"We were blind-sighted," George told WKYC, adding that she didn't want to get vaccinated. "I've got reasons—medical, religious, and also freedom," she said.

The Ganim family, of Eastlake, are hoping they can still proceed with the surgery, possibly if George undergoes her part at another hospital.

Cleveland Clinic exterior shot
File photo: Cleveland Clinic on June 19, 2015, in Cleveland, Ohio. An Ohio man's kidney transplant was canceled over Cleveland Clinic's COVID-19 vaccination policy. Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

In a statement to Newsweek, the Cleveland Clinic said preventing a COVID infection in the living donor around the time of the surgery and recovery is "crucial."

"The health and safety of our patients is our top priority," the statement said.

"For organ transplantation using a living donor, which involves the living donor undergoing a scheduled surgery, we are requiring COVID-19 vaccination for both donor and recipient before we can proceed with the surgery, for the safety of both."

The statement says vaccination is "particularly important in these patients for their safety."

It adds: "Living donation for organ transplantation has been a life-saving treatment, but it is not without risks to the donor. For the living donor, preventing COVID-19 infection around the time of their surgery and recovery is crucial. We continually strive to minimize risk to our living donors, and vaccination is an important component to ensure the safest approach and optimal outcomes for donors."

The clinic added that the FDA-authorized vaccines "have been determined to be safe and effective and are the best way to prevent severe illness and death from COVID-19."

The Ganim family has been contacted for additional comment.

Organ transplant surgery taking place
A stock photo of surgery taking place. Getty Images

It comes after a Colorado woman refused to get vaccinated even though it would mean she could not get her life-saving kidney transplant surgery.

Born-against Christian Leilani Lutali said she wouldn't get the COVID vaccine because of the role fetal cell lines have played in some vaccine development.

Lutali, who has stage five kidney disease, was on the kidney transplant list at UCHealth's University of Colorado Hospital.

But UCHealth requires transplant recipients to be vaccinated because recipients are at significant risk of contracting COVID-19 as well as being hospitalized and dying from the virus, a spokesman said. Unvaccinated donors could also pass it to the recipient even if they initially test negative for the virus, the spokesperson said.

Update 10/12/21, 10.15 a.m. ET: This article has been updated with a statement from the Cleveland Clinic.