Air Force Veteran Forced to Choose Between Dying and Getting Vaccine

By Alice Giordano
Alice Giordano
Alice Giordano
Alice Giordano is a former news correspondent for The Boston Globe, Associated Press, and New England bureau of The New York Times.
March 18, 2022 Updated: March 22, 2022

Chad Carswell was barely 18 when insurgents in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom took aim at his KC-135 refueling aircraft—essentially, a giant gas tank with wings—with him and other Air Force crewmen aboard.

He described a chaotic scene in an exclusive interview with The Epoch Times, and the moment he realized the only way to thwart a deadly and fiery explosion was to try to access guns that were locked up in a vehicle 10 feet away.

“It was a pretty intense moment,” Carswell said, as he recounted the days he served at the border of Qatar during U.S. airstrikes on Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the U.S. response to the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Carswell admittedly didn’t expect to find himself in combat just weeks into boot camp. Others newly enlisted left before finishing training, but Carswell said humanitarian work with refugees “made him realize how blessed he was”—and so he stayed to help.

Sadly, some Americans haven’t shown Carswell the same compassion. 

When the 39-year-old Air Force veteran went public recently about being turned away by a North Carolina hospital for a desperately needed kidney transplant because he refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine, he was attacked on social media—with some even expressing their hope that he would die.

The good news is that many people posted their support for Carswell, enough for the coordinator at the Medical City Fort Worth Transplant Institute in Texas to learn about Carswell’s plight, and she offered to place him on her facility’s candidate list for a transplant.

The hospital is seeking a donor match for Carswell, whose kidneys have slipped to just 4 percent functionality as he’s searched for a hospital that would accept him without a COVID vaccination. 

The Texas transplant facility’s support is a far cry from the unwavering stance taken by the Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina: that it wouldn’t consider Carswell for a transplant until he was vaccinated against COVID-19.

“They told me either take the vaccine or you’re going to die,” Carswell told The Epoch Times.

Other hospitals have made similar decisions.

In January, Brigham and Women’s Hospital rejected 31-year-old David Ferguson of Boston for a heart transplant because he remained unvaccinated. In October, Colorado-based UCHealth removed 56-year-old Colorado Springs resident Leilani Lutali from the waiting list for a kidney transplant because she wasn’t vaccinated.

Each of the hospitals said the reason for requiring the COVID-19 vaccine was because of the high risk to already immune-compromised transplant patients of contracting the disease.

They also said they were following standard protocols set by national transplant organizations, specifically naming the American Society of Transplantation (AST) and the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS). Both organizations list vaccine manufacturing giant Sanofi, which partnered with both Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson to produce the COVID-19 vaccine. 

AST’s corporate sponsors also include vaccine giant Merck; CSL Behring, which partnered with AstraZeneca to produce its COVID-19 vaccine; and Novartis, which like Sanofi, partnered with Pfizer to produce its COVID-19 vaccine.

In 2019, AST also provided Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which denied Ferguson his heart transplant, an unrestricted grant.

In a joint statement with The International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation (ISHLT) and American Society of Transplant Surgeons (ASTS), AST stated it strongly recommended that “all eligible children and adult transplant candidates and recipients be vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine that is approved or authorized in their jurisdiction.”

It recommends a total of three shots for all organ transplant recipients.

UNOS also released a statement to The Epoch Times emphasizing that transplant hospitals are free to adopt their own policies regarding the vaccine status of patients.

“Patients have the right to seek transplant at an alternate center. However, the requirements may be the same,” Anne Paschke, a UNOS spokesperson, said in the statement.

UNOS receives 10 percent of its funding from federal tax dollars.

The practice of hospitals denying patients life-saving transplants over their vaccine status has become so rampant that last month, U.S. Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.) introduced a proposal called the SAVE (Stop Arduous Vaccine Enforcement) Act, that would bar transplant facilities from denying an individual from receiving or donating an organ solely because of being unvaccinated.

Carswell’s attorney, Adam Draper, of the Draper & Wagner law firm, told The Epoch Times that what’s so remarkable about Carswell is that his primary concern isn’t about saving his own life, but preventing hospitals from doing this to someone else.

“He’s a good, good man. He doesn’t deserve scurrilous attacks,” Draper told The Epoch Times.

Alice Giordano is a former news correspondent for The Boston Globe, Associated Press, and New England bureau of The New York Times.