CLAYTON — Kyle Whiting has been on life support for just over a month, hoping to get a double-lung transplant, but it’s his vaccination status that is standing in the way.
Mr. Whiting, a 26-year-old who grew up in Adams and now lives in Clayton, was supposed to get married about a month ago. He tested positive for COVID-19 in October and was placed on a ventilator and an ECMO machine — a device for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation to oxygenate blood from outside the body and pump it back in.
Just as the coronavirus virus seems to act, his recovery has been taking one step forward and two back. His mother, Shalene Whiting, and his fiancee, Reba Gushlaw, haven’t been able to speak to him during the time he’s been at St. Joseph’s Hospital. With the ventilator and the ECMO machine there’s a tube in his trachea, and he’s been receiving paralytic medication, which is medically induced paralysis.
One week Mr. Whiting will make progress, once to the point where the ventilator was removed for nearly two hours, and the ECMO machine was dialed-down to its lowest setting. The next week he will confirm the doctors’ determination that he is the sickest person in the hospital, Mrs. Whiting said. His oxygen levels will plummet and he’ll be placed back on the ventilator and ECMO machine.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” Mrs. Whiting said. “Every day, you don’t know what you’re going to get. Anything can happen at any minute, and that’s what it’s been like the whole time. There have been good days and bad days, and there have been a lot more bad days.”
The problem is his lungs, and the goal is to make them just strong enough so he can qualify for the double-lung transplant.
Standing in his and his family’s way is his vaccination status.
Mr. Whiting was not vaccinated when he tested positive for COVID-19, and his family says he still can’t get vaccinated because of the treatment he’s undergone. His mother said since he underwent antibody treatment, he can’t get vaccinated for 90 days. Well, they want him to have the transplant surgery in two weeks, and they said most hospitals won’t perform it on an unvaccinated person.
His mother and fiancee have called around to hospitals and found a few that will, but for that he will have to be transported. It can be extremely dangerous moving a patient who is on an ECMO machine, hence the paralytic medication.
Mrs. Whiting said it almost feels like her son is being doubled-down on for not being vaccinated. She knows that his condition might be less severe had he gotten the shot, but he’s also 26 years old and critically ill with the virus despite his age and no underlying conditions. She believes it’s an outlier case no matter his vaccination status.
Regardless, they feel the pressure of him not being vaccinated before his initial diagnosis, and now they’re feeling it again with the difficulty of finding a hospital that will do the surgery.
“That is a feeling we’re having,” she said.
While Mrs. Whiting and Ms. Gushlaw still haven’t been able to speak with Mr. Whiting, he has been able to blink his eyes at times, or nod his head to a question.
“Kyle is still there,” she said. “But it has gotten much worse. The doctor told me Kyle has a small chance of recovering. The stars would have to align, and he needs a miracle is flat-out what she told me.”
In the meantime, they have to wait to see what happens. They are staying in a nearby hotel and visiting him every day. They have hope, and the wedding is canceled. Mr. Whiting is set to turn 27 years old in two weeks, just before he might be receiving new lungs.
“The alternative is not acceptable,” Mrs. Whiting said. “He’s going to pull through this, that’s all there is to this.”