Opinion: It was easier to donate a kidney to my husband than to keep him safe during the pandemic


We were both fully vaccinated and waiting for The String Cheese Incident, a quintessential Colorado band, to take the stage at a stunning lakeside venue.

“This is Mike,” Bryan said, gesturing to the smiling guy sitting next to him in the ADA section. He was wearing a boot for a broken foot or ankle, just like Bryan.

“I’d shake your hand, but I have a little cold,” Mike told me.

I winced. About nine years before — the year we both turned 40 — I’d donated my left kidney to Bryan, who has an autoimmune disease called IgA nephropathy, in which confused antibodies attack his kidneys until they fail. He takes medication twice a day to suppress his immune system to keep his body from rejecting the transplanted kidney. So he runs a higher risk for catching colds, the flu and Covid-19 — and for developing serious complications or dying.

A recent study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that vaccinated immunocompromised people are 485 times more likely to end up in the hospital or die from Covid-19 compared to the general population that is fully vaccinated. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about 9 million Americans are immunocompromised.
Thursday, the US Food and Drug Administration authorized an additional Covid-19 vaccine dose for certain immunocompromised people, including “solid organ transplant recipients” like Bryan. And on Friday, the vaccine advisers to the CDC voted to recommend it as well.
This will offer a lifeline to a lot of families, but it also raises questions. Primarily, how much more protection will the third dose offer? What about people who received a single dose of Johnson and Johnson since, according to the FDA and CDC, there’s not enough data on the J&J vaccine to consider additional doses.
At the moment, the CDC stipulates vaccination should be deferred for at least 90 days after receiving monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma until there’s data about the safety and efficacy for those patients. Where does that leave people who have been treated for Covid-19 recently?

That’s the question Bryan and I are facing today, despite the fact that we locked down at the onset of the pandemic. I didn’t hug anyone other than Bryan for 14 months. We didn’t see our families because they live in different states. I went from being the neighbor who pet everyone’s dogs to the frantic woman urging her own pups to sprint across the street if someone approached us in our dense Denver neighborhood.

I endured men physically intimidating me in grocery stores for wearing a mask indoors even after mandates lifted, scared to respond in case it would escalate to spitting. One guy even stopped his car when I was walking my dog to tell me I didn’t need to wear a mask, which freaked me out. That wasn’t the current CDC or state guidance at the time, and why couldn’t he just mind his own business?

Part of me almost understood people protesting masks and other pandemic restrictions. Denial is the first stage of grief, and we’re all mourning the loss of pre-pandemic life. But I didn’t have the luxury of embracing delusion and “alternative facts” because Bryan’s life was on the line.

The vaccine brought immeasurable relief. Plus, cases were down, so we allowed hope to bloom. I bought tickets to outdoor concerts at smaller venues and a flight to see my parents, brother, sister-in-law and 11-year-old nephew. I missed them like crazy. We were a bit shell-shocked but overjoyed to be re-entering society.

Unfortunately, the Delta variant — and the unvaccinated — had other plans for us.

Less than a week after Mike apologized for his “little cold,” Bryan got sick. I have no way of knowing if he’s the person who infected Bryan with Covid-19 since there were so many other people at the concerts we attended, and nobody was wearing masks.

On Covid, people are making the last mistake

One way or another, Bryan tested positive and suffered from overpowering fatigue, body aches, a crushing pressure on his head, dizzy spells and the urge to cough whenever he spoke. The day of his diagnosis, he bit into an orange and exclaimed, “I can’t taste it!”

His nephrology team scored him monoclonal antibody treatments, which, in addition to some effects of the vaccine, likely kept him out of the hospital, but he didn’t improve — even slightly — for 11 days. Friends and family members kept asking for updates, but I had nothing to share other than, “He’s still sleeping a lot.” Eventually, I saw the light in his eyes return, and he slowly started improving.

It was terrifying. While caregiving, I slept on the couch for nearly three weeks and kept testing negative (glad I got my jab!). Bryan tested negative about a week ago but is still contending with major fatigue.

I’m so grateful it wasn’t worse.

And I’m furious that it happened at all.

As half the country seems to know, vaccines protect not only ourselves but those around us. When I read tweets from anti-vaxxers like, “Just tell Grandma to stay inside,” I’m filled with rage. When I hear epidemiologists warn that the next variant might evade vaccines, or that the coronavirus could be something we’ll just manage forever, I fear I’ll spend the rest of my life inside, trying to keep my husband safe.

Though the third dose news is a step in the right direction, it’s not a silver bullet.

Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, cautioned the FDA panel that the third dose appears only “moderately” effective in boosting protection for the immunocompromised.

So Bryan and millions of other transplant recipients, cancer patients and others with compromised immune systems are depending on their fellow citizens to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated.

As The New York Times columnist Ezra Klein recently wrote, “Whether it is a more severe imposition on liberty to ask someone to get vaccinated or regularly tested than to ask all immunosuppressed people in the country to effectively shelter in place for the rest of their lives is a collective question that demands a collective answer.”

Please don’t betray vulnerable Americans and the people who love them. Please get vaccinated.



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