Recently, one of my former patients and his wife stopped by for a visit to my home in eastern Washington, in an area called the Palouse. This was their first visit to the area and despite being experienced international travelers, they were enchanted by the autumn beauty of the Palouse. We wanted to go out for lunch, however, we could not find any outdoor dining in the cooler weather, so we went to one of my favorite restaurants, and placed an order to go. We took our order to the car and safely ate our food in the parking lot before heading out to enjoy more of the Palouse.
My former patient had DCM. He was genetically tested and has a LMNA mutation. He had a successful heart transplant 11 years ago and, by necessity, is immunocompromised. Immunocompromised means that his immune system is suppressed. It does not work like it should. He must take drugs that weaken his immune system. This prevents his body from rejecting his transplanted heart but leaves him at higher risk of getting infections and many cancers.
My former patient fought a long battle to stay alive to receive a heart transplant. He surely would have died if he had not received a heart from a donor 11 years ago. He is very responsible about taking care of his transplanted heart and the rest of his body. He is cautious about being exposed to the virus that causes COVID19. Although he has had three COVID19 vaccinations, he is aware that he is at higher risk of being infected and dying from COVID19 compared to people who are not immunocompromised.
COVID19 vaccinations are not 100% effective for preventing infection and serious illness or death, but they are close with effectiveness ranging from about 80-95% for the three vaccines available in the US. This effectiveness is lowered to about 50% in persons whose immune systems are compromised, like my former patient, like the late General Colin Powell, like people being treated for breast and other cancers. They are all at higher risk of getting infected, becoming very ill and, dying from COVID19, even when fully vaccinated.
My former patient greatly values the gift that has allowed him to live a full life for the past 11 years. He wants to honor and respect his donor by taking great care of his gift of life. He wants to live another 11 or more heathy, full years.
We can all do our part to help him and other immunocompromised persons to live with the lowest risk possible of becoming infected with the virus that causes COVID19. Please get your COVID19 vaccinations and respect the gifts of life that organ donors have given to others and protect the immunocompromised.
Kathy Crispell, MD, FACC, DCM Foundation Board of Directors member