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CLEVELAND (WJW) – An Ohio woman is the latest patient being denied a lifesaving transplant surgery over the COVID-19 vaccine.

Michelle Vitullo has been battling stage 4 liver disease for years and began seeing doctors at the Cleveland Clinic in 2019.

Her husband of 47 years, Jim Vitullo, says they sacrificed a lot in preparation for the surgery, and followed all of the instructions by clinic doctors.

“They had us sign an agreement that we would live within one hour of the Cleveland Clinic, I had to quit my job because of all the visits, ended up sleeping literally hundreds of days in my car in the carport there because of the expense,” said Jim.

The couple and entire family was ecstatic when they learned their daughter, Angela Green, was an exact match.

After rigorous testing on both mom and daughter, and multiple treatments to stabilize Michelle’s health, they were finally ready for surgery at the end of September.  

However, less than two weeks later, the procedure was canceled indefinitely.

“We were told to get ready,” said Green. “Then we get the news we were taken off the list and we can’t do it without the vaccine and it was heartbreaking.”

The entire family opposes the COVID-19 vaccine for religious reasons and due to medical concerns.

“To us, it’s a big mistake. It’s against our beliefs,” said Jim.

“We’ve heard of adverse reactions like blood clotting and heart problems,” added Angela,  “Those are not supposed to happen from a vaccine and we don’t feel comfortable taking on that many risks.”

In response, the Cleveland Clinic released the following statement:

“The health and safety of our patients is our top priority. Cleveland Clinic has recently developed safety protocols for solid organ transplantation that require COVID-19 vaccination to be an active transplant candidate or living donor. Vaccination is particularly important in these patients for their safety. For the living donor, preventing COVID-19 infection around the time of a surgical operation is crucial. 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.“

The Vitullos’ case is just one of several similar situations. Just last week, a Colorado woman was denied a kidney transplant because she and her donor also objected to the vaccine for religious reasons.

“It’s just wrong,” said Jim. “I thought, ‘How can you do that to somebody?’” 

The Vitullos are now hoping to find another hospital to perform the surgery.

Michelle and her daughter broke down in tears when they contemplated what might happen if she’s unable to get the transplanted liver.

“I don’t think they do care,” said Michelle. “I feel bad because my grandkids, they say, ‘Grandma, we’re praying for you to get better.’ It breaks my heart because now I have to tell them I may not get better.”