SAN DIEGO, Calif.—Even on a good day, Linda Garinger of Ramona, California, thinks about dying.
Since she went on kidney dialysis two years ago, she's had a heart attack and a cardiac episode associated with her thrice-weekly treatments.
Her energy is low as her other vital organs slowly fail. Her blood pressure is out of control—hovering at around 200 systolic over "100-something"diastolic whenever she undergoes dialysis.
Garinger feels it's only a matter of time before her next heart attack, which could prove fatal unless she gets a new kidney.
"The dialysis is very stressful on me. My vision is going. My hair is falling out. I've got skin cancer," said Garinger, 68. "They said it's from the dialysis not filtering out all the bad stuff.
"My biggest fear is I'll have a heart attack during dialysis. I'm just going downhill right now."
In 2022, Garinger was eagerly waiting for a kidney transplant at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, having found a good organ match in her daughter, the doctors told her.
But, "I needed [the transplant] like two years ago," Garinger said.
Early last May, Garinger received an unexpected letter from the hospital saying she was no longer on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) waitlist for a kidney transplant.
"The reason for this status change is you have not had your COVID vaccines," read the May 6, 2022, letter Garinger shared with The Epoch Times.
"Once this situation is remedied, you will be evaluated for re-activation on the transplant waitlist."
Garinger did not appeal the hospital's decision. She knew "in her gut" her unvaccinated status would always be a problem.
Still, she put her faith in Sharp Memorial, only to be put through tests, medical procedures, and consultations at a substantial cost to Medicare.
"The whole time, they knew I wasn't vaccinated and that [my daughter] wasn't vaccinated. They would always ask me, 'Why don't you want to get a vaccine?'"
"I was pretty adamant," said Garinger. "I didn't want to take anything that was still experimental."
She remembered her good friend who died two weeks after receiving a COVID shot. "She lived right over here, on the other side [of the street]," Garinger said.
Starting All OverThe challenge now is the time it will take to complete all the required paperwork and preliminary procedures, the time it will take to get on a waitlist for a kidney donor, and the time it will take to find a donor.
She fears her time will run out before then.
One sympathetic doctor said, 'Linda, you could drop over dead. Your heart could stop.' So, I have to watch what I eat, and on the days I don't do dialysis, I take this powder that tastes like gritty sand" to remove the excess potassium from her body.
Garinger finds herself among many people who need an organ transplant but are up against a medical system still adhering to vaccine protocols in many facilities.
In a 2021 Healio transplantation survey, 60 percent of the 141 transplant centers that responded did not require a COVID-19 injection before surgery. The survey sample represented just over 56 percent of the transplant centers in the United States.
Jeffrey Childers, a commercial attorney based in Gainesville, Florida, served clients facing COVID-19 mandates at hospitals and medical clinics during the pandemic.
He said Garinger's case reflects the "COVID mania" that permeated the medical establishment beginning in 2020.
Life-and-Death DecisionsChilders said health care facilities still have tremendous discretionary power to make critical decisions concerning COVID-19 vaccines.
"To see these kinds of life-and-death bureaucratic powers wielded by people who are not motivated by the science but—something else—is horrifying," Childers said.
"I've run into it a handful of times in Florida. The law that applies is state dependent. The folks who manage those donor lists and the assignments have a lot of discretion.
"It's even more appalling it's happening now so late in the pandemic when the mandates are gone. You can't find a single person who says they regret not taking the vaccine. But you can find tons going the other way."
Childers said pro-vaccine advocates argue that an unvaccinated recipient is much more likely to die from COVID-19 following transplant surgery than a vaccinated patient.
"I don't know the official line anymore," he told The Epoch Times. "[The vaccine] doesn't stop you from dying. It doesn't stop you from getting sick."
One study in the November 2022 MDPI, a Switzerland-based publisher of open-access scientific journals, claimed that over 60 days, the death rate among unvaccinated kidney transplant patients was 11.2 percent at the time of COVID-19 infection.
The study found the death rate among the vaccinated was 2.2 percent. More than two-thirds of the 144 patients in the study received a kidney transplant.
By contrast, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine in September 2022 found that some cornea transplant patients rejected the grafts after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
In some cases, the rejection took place 20 years after the procedure.
Childers believes the science generally does not support the notion that unvaccinated transplant recipients are at an increased risk of dying from COVID-19.
"The argument is always don't give an organ to a person who is living some kind of lifestyle that is risky or increases the risk of dying from something else," Childers told The Epoch Times.
"That's the logic they're applying to this. They're essentially saying by not taking the vaccine, [transplant patients] are at higher risk of dying from COVID. So they don't want to give an organ to somebody at high risk voluntarily."
Ohio attorney Warner Mendenhall, representing clients in vaccine mandate cases, said he knows at least 60 organ transplant denial suits working through the medical freedom group Liberty Counsel.
Each case involves a client refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine required for transplant surgery.
"We're seeing [transplant denials] at many hospitals across the country," Mendenhall said.
And while the medical establishment remains split on the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 injections, some "medical people are concerned about clotting and other issues that occur with the vaccinated."
A 'Fiduciary Responsibility' to PatientsOften, the unvaccinated transplant patient has maintained a longstanding medical relationship with the hospital or clinic without issue before the COVID-19 vaccine rollouts.
For this reason, Mendenhall believes there is a "fiduciary relationship that the hospitals engage in with a transplant patient." To break that obligation would be "a real breach of that fiduciary responsibility to them."
According to the Chronic Disease Research Group, an estimated 37 million people in the United States have kidney disease in varying stages.
About 1 million Americans are in the end stages of the disease. At the same time, 550,000 undergo kidney dialysis to remove excess toxins from the blood because their kidneys cannot perform this function.
"It is best to explore transplant before you need to start dialysis. This way, you might be able to get a transplant 'preemptively,' before you need dialysis," the organization's website states.
"It takes time to find the right transplant center for you, to complete the transplant evaluation, to get on the transplant waitlist for a deceased donor, or to find a living kidney donor if you can."
Garinger said she is in terminal Stage 5 of her kidney disease and needs dialysis almost every other day to stay alive.
"I'm pissed off," said Garinger, who gets short of breath just walking to the kitchen.
"I can't walk to Costco or a grocery store now. My muscles—I get out of wind so easily. I can't walk down to my chickens anymore."
Her daughter Emily Lewis, 35, is a recent medical assistant program graduate and is now her mother's live-in caretaker as she waits for a kidney transplant.
"I put my life on hold because [of my mother]," Lewis said, although she has no regrets.
With her career in limbo, Lewis said she is angry at the injustice of the COVID-19 mandates while doubting the shots even work.
"Everyone I know who's COVID vaccinated has had it four or five times. I've had it zero," Lewis told The Epoch Times.
Denied access to the kidney wait list at Sharp Memorial, Garinger found that the University of California San Diego Medical Center was willing to perform the kidney transplant surgery.
But the longer it takes to find a kidney donor, the more likely it is that she won't make it back to a more normal life.
She characterized her relationship with her doctors at Sharp Memorial as adversarial since she opposed taking the COVID-19 vaccine under any circumstances.
She remembered one doctor in Ramona who kept "pressuring me" about the vaccine.
He said, "What will you do if you get COVID? What if you catch COVID and you have to go to the hospital?'
"Well," she told him. "I have this protocol on my fridge—vitamins C and D. I have ivermectin. Number one: I won't go to the hospital. It's a death sentence there."
"I guess you know more than me,'" the doctor said as he stood up and left the room.
"I didn't know I had an adversary" or that "I was an evil person. I just had a gut feeling they would deny me [a kidney] because they kept pressuring me about the shot."
'Why Aren't You Vaccinated?'At one point, Garinger demanded data showing the vaccine's side effects.
"There was none," she said. "It came down to the last final interview with the surgeon. All he could ask me was, 'Why aren't you vaccinated? Why don't you want to get vaccinated?'"
"I don't have COVID," Garinger said. "[Emily] doesn't have COVID. Another thing they told me was we were a [donor] match. And then I got to UCSD, and the bloodwork showed she was not a match."
Sharp Memorial did not respond to a request for comment from The Epoch Times. UCSD Medical Center did not return an email seeking comment.
New Orleans attorney David Dalia said Garinger's case seems to be medical "discrimination."
"They are discriminating against her based on her vaccination status," he said.
During the pandemic, Dalia worked on vaccine mandate cases with Frontline doctors, filing amicus briefs on behalf of 1.5 million federal employees who refused to take a COVID-19 vaccine by order of President Joe Biden.
"The truth is [Garinger] has a lot better chance of living than a vaccinated person. We can back that up. They're viewing it as sort of a disability.
"Well, that's a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. And federal law specifically says all experimental use authorization drugs are strictly voluntary and subject to informed consent."
Dalia said informed consent is "never coerced."
As Garinger works through the intake process at UCSD Medical Center, she has good, bad, and "hell" days.
"I sit in a chair all day," said Garinger, who ran a successful foreclosure business before she retired due to her illness. "[Emily] helps me do cooking. She does all the chopping and stuff. I have a chair in the kitchen. I walk to the kitchen and start cooking. I don't do much. My gardening is on hold—everything is on hold. My muscles are gone. I use electric carts to go to Costco. I can't do anything. I'm out of breath. It sucks."
"Every part of my body is deteriorating. So, I'm on hold until I get a kidney."
Just as painful are the times people call her "evil " because she refuses to take an mRNA vaccine for COVID-19.
"You're going to give [COVID] to everybody," they tell her. "You're evil for not getting vaccinated."
"That's how I felt," Garinger told The Epoch Times.
She said another fear is receiving a kidney from a vaccinated donor, with unknown health effects, since there is no way to determine which donor is vaccinated and which one is not.
Feeling her time is growing short, Garinger said she is still determined to keep fighting in the time she has left.
"I've got to get this done. Every day there's something else going wrong with me because my kidneys are gone," Garinger said.