WADSWORTH, Ohio — As we continue to see COVID-19 restrictions eased statewide, local hospital systems are still staying firm on safety policies. The Cleveland Clinic developed a new safety protocol last year that requires transplant patients and living donors to be fully vaccinated against the virus before going into surgery.
That’s now affecting 9-year-old Tanner Donaldson from Wadsworth and his family. His dad, Dane Donaldson, is a nearly perfect match, but he can’t donate because he’s unvaccinated.
“Tanner's a third grader. Personality-wise, he’s like every other kid, very happy. Just a fun kid all the way around, plays basketball. He's now into lacrosse. At this age, there's not a lot of contact. So he's good there,” said Donaldson. “Medically, a little bit different than most children. He was born with a birth defect called posterior urethral valves. It's a valve that blocks urine from exiting the body.”
Tanner was born with one kidney and right now it functions at between 18-20%. He and his parents are managing it now, but he’ll eventually need a transplant, something his parents have known and been preparing for since the day he was born under the guidance of doctors at the Cleveland Clinic.
Both of his parents got tested and both are a match, but Donaldson is the one who will eventually be going under the knife. That’s until he received a letter from the Cleveland Clinic in November notifying them that donors and active transplant candidates must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 for transplant surgeries.
The Donaldsons are unvaccinated based on their own personal beliefs.
“It was a little bit thrown down our throat. I mean, it was everywhere we turned. I couldn't shop at a grocery store without hearing it over the loudspeaker. So the more it became the more just studying it, what's involved in it, is there informed consent? Do I get to see the ingredient list?” said Donaldson.
COVID-19 vaccines have proved highly effective and safe to use in the prevention of severe COVID-19 in adults and older children. Prior to use, all vaccines go through rigorous testing in clinical trials, first in adults and then in children.
Donaldson believes he and his wife have natural immunity from the virus since they’ve both had it, and he presented their reasoning to Clinic doctors during a sit down meeting last year. He said they wouldn’t budge and since then they haven’t responded to requests from their lawyer for religious exemptions.
“They didn't say let's meet, let's go over your individual case. Let's present why we think. We called the meeting, they didn't call the meeting, we called the meeting. And unfortunately, we asked to meet with the folks that made the decision. And we met with our doctors which we have a relationship with which makes it hard for them and hard for us because if we all like each other. They're bringing their—I don't call it their marching orders—but you can tell when somebody wholeheartedly believes in something and somebody just says, ‘This is what we have to do,’” said Donaldson.
News 5 reached out to the Cleveland Clinic for comment. A spokesperson said they can’t comment on individual cases, but sent a statement saying:
Cleveland Clinic Statement
COVID-19 Protocol for Transplantation and Living Donation
In 2021, Cleveland Clinic developed COVID-19 safety protocols for transplantation and living donation to minimize the risks of possible COVID-19 exposure during the pandemic.
At this time, Cleveland Clinic's safety protocols for solid organ transplantation require COVID-19 vaccination to be an active transplant candidate or living donor. Vaccination is particularly important in these patients for their safety.
Living donation for organ transplantation has been a life-saving treatment, but it is not without risks to the donor. For the living donor, reducing the risk of a COVID-19 infection around the time of their surgery and recovery is crucial. Individuals who are actively infected with COVID-19 have a much higher rate of complications during and after surgery, even if the infection is asymptomatic. 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.
For the transplant candidate, in addition to a major operation, medications taken after an organ transplant weaken a person’s immune response. Serious complications of COVID-19 are most likely to develop in those individuals who have weakened immune systems, as their body has a reduced ability to fight and recover from infections. 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, especially when administered prior to transplantation.
The health and safety of our patients is our top priority. As the pandemic evolves, we will continue to evaluate our safety protocols.
Now, the Donaldsons said they are at a crossroads. They’re looking at other hospitals, but deep down hoping things will work out with the hospital system that’s cared for their son for nine years.
“I don't know what we do today. You know, I gotta think somewhere out there, that cooler heads would prevail and we could, you know, I'd love it still to be at the Clinic and us come around and have some type of dialogue and say, ‘Okay, you know, let's look at your case,’” said Donaldson. “We're trying to put plan B in place. The number one thing I can do is keep him as healthy as possible and I can remain and keep my health the best I can. But it's stressful. There's no doubt about it. You know, it just is.”
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