Lung Transplant Denied for New Mom Battling COVID-19 in Las Vegas

Photo: (Photo : Hristo Rusev/Getty Images)

A new mother fighting COVID-19 in a Las Vegas hospital was denied a lung transplant after her insurance provider said that the expensive procedure was not part of her Medicaid coverage.

Gabriela Acuna, 29, caught COVID-19 because she delayed her vaccination due to her unique condition as a pregnant mom. But while waiting for a clearance from her OB-GYN to get the jab, Acuna tested positive for the virus in August 2021.

Around this time, new studies were slowly coming out confirming the increased risks of COVID-19 severe complications for unvaccinated pregnant women. While battling the disease, Acuna's blood oxygen level dropped so low that she had to be hospitalized.

According to Acuna's sister, Paula Acuna Olmeda, COVID-19 ravaged her sister's health, but she fought for her baby's life until the 26th week of her pregnancy. By this time, doctors started to grow concerned that Acuna's heart would fail, so the family discussed the possibility of a caesarian operation through FaceTime.

Read AlsoNew York Hospitals Aren't Blocking Unvaccinated Parents From Taking Newborns Home

Ryden's Birth, Mom's Cardiac Arrest

After securing her consent, Acuna's baby, Ryden, was born while doctors intubated his mother as she badly needed a ventilator because of COVID-19. At 1 pound and 10 ounces, Acuna's son was immediately admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) without his mother seeing nor touching him as she was still under anesthesia.

Since Ryden's birth in late September, Acuna's has not yet woken up and then suffered a cardiac arrest on October 1. Only her parents were allowed inside her hospital room when it became clearer to the hospital workers that the mother might not make it out alive.

Days later, Acuna's heart stabilized, but her lungs started to worry her doctors yet again, and they recommended a double lung transplant. She was shortlisted as a lung transplant candidate at the Keck Medicine in USC after passing all the tests, including her insurance approval.

However, Nevada Medicaid then changed its mind and denied the needed procedure. In a brief statement, the agency said that it was not part of the covered service.

The family reached out to the Governor's Office for help and was coursed through the Department of Health and Human Services Director. Both offices said that they have no hand on the matter anymore.

Acuna's family has been trying to raise $2,500,000 for the lung transplant via GoFundMe.

Most COVID-19 Patients Can't Qualify

According to CalMatters, most COVID-19 patients do not qualify for the lung transplant because their bodies may be too frail for the lengthy surgery, and they might have a serious underlying condition that could complicate the procedure. Per one or two patients on the shortlist, 20 or 30 patients have been likely turned down, according to Dr. Kamyar Afshar of the UC San Diego Health.

Lung organ donors are scarce, which is why surgeons prioritize those patients whose bodies could make a full recovery. A COVID-19 patient who gets on the transplant list is likely someone whose only medical issue is lung failure, as in the case of Acuna.

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