‘I’ll die free’: N.C. veteran denied kidney transplant over vaccination status
HICKORY, N.C. — A 38-year-old North Carolina man refuses to be vaccinated, even if the decision hinders his chance at a life-saving kidney transplant.
“The doctor said to me, ‘You know, you’re going to die.’ I’ll die free. I fought for my freedom. I’ll die free,” Carswell said. “I’ve had the conversation with my dad and my family. I’ve told them, if it gets to that point, it is what it is. I’m willing to take that chance and to fight for that risk.”
Carswell, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, has a long list of medical issues.
Diabetes took both of his legs. He said he has survived six heart attacks. His kidney function is, he said, at 4%.
Carswell said he went through the entire process to get on the list for a transplant at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem. When he found out he would be required to have the COVID-19 vaccine to get the transplant, he refused.
Carswell said he has a list of living donors willing to give him a kidney.
In a statement, Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist defended its vaccination requirement by saying the policy “follows the current standard of care in the United States, which is to vaccinate all patients on waiting lists or being evaluated for transplant.
“The reason it is recommended is to provide protection for the patient. Transplant patients are at high risk for severe illness if they don’t have pre-existing immunity prior to being transplanted. We understand that some patients may not wish to be vaccinated. In this case, patients can opt to be evaluated at another transplant center.”
Carswell found out his kidneys were failing four years ago after he had his first heart attack. At the time, he said, he didn’t need dialysis because his kidney function was around 30%. Now, he gets a dialysis treatment three days a week.
Carswell said he knew something was seriously wrong in July of 2020. “I couldn’t walk up my stairs without panting … I go to the gym five to six days a week, so that’s not normal for me,” Carswell said. “I called my nephrologist, and she sent me immediately to get bloodwork done. She called me 20 minutes after I got the bloodwork done and said, ‘Get to the hospital. I’m admitting you right now.’ They took me straight in, put a catheter in my chest and started dialysis immediately.”
Carswell said he had his heart checked as part of the eligibility process for a kidney transplant. On July 7, 2020, he was sent to Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center to have an emergency quadruple bypass heart surgery.
“I had the open-heart surgery, and then had to wait three months, and then the surgeon there at Baptist cleared me to have a transplant,” Carswell said. “I had everything filed and went to Duke, went to Chapel Hill, went to Baptist and other places to try and get on the transplant list.”
Carswell said he is continuing to search for a hospital that will not require the vaccine in order to perform the transplant.
“You have a choice for your life. I have a choice for mine,” Carswell said. “If you choose to do it, I should have the same right to choose to not.” Carswell said he supports anyone who wishes to get vaccinated, as long as they are doing it because they feel it is best for their health, not because it is required.”