NEW PLYMOUTH — Derek Kovick is one of approximately 1,500 people who call New Plymouth home (as of the 2010 census). He grew up there, graduated high school there in 1998 and, after attending college, returned there to be New Plymouth High School’s head baseball coach at age 20.

Now at age 41, he has suffered from Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis for most of his adulthood. It’s a liver disease which damages the bile ducts and can lead to deadly infections. 

“My freshman year of college is when I was diagnosed,” said Kovick to the newspaper in an Aug. 21 voicemail. “The symptoms at the time were extreme fatigue and arthritis in my bones … I would just wake up some days and I would just be in so much pain.”

Kovick initially sought treatment in Boise before being referred to a doctor in Washington state who specializes in this disease.

“They [Boise] said they had never done anything with this before, and they knew of a doctor in Seattle that specializes on [this disease].”

He then went to the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, where said doctor worked, to seek treatment beginning in 1999.

“I hung on for 10 years before my first liver transplant,” on Jan. 20, 2009, according to Kovick. “Then it was about six weeks later I had kind of turned jaundice again and it was determined that I have ischemic issues.”

Kovick described the issue as “frostbite” developing on the transplanted liver. As such, he had to have this one transplanted, too

“I was actually able to live another 18 months before that next transplant,” which came on Sept. 4, 2010. Six years passed without issues, before Kovick’s disease returned while he was living with his family in Omaha, Nebraska in 2016.

“I moved my family back to Idaho, so we could be under the care of the University of Washington, just becuase it was like family. I knew all the doctors, I knew all the nurses, so it was home.”

Kovick has presently been on the waiting list for a new liver since November 2020. However, in order to get this latest transplant, doctors at the hospital have told him he will need to get vaccinated for COVID-19. 

“I was still actually really healthy up until the last month, and of course as soon as I started taking a turn for the worse, is when they threw this at me that I was going to need to be vaccinated.”

But for Kovick, the risks involved with vaccination, such as even slight body temperature increases, pose their own threat to Kovick’s life.

“There’s just not enough data on, not only everybody, but especially us transplant patients. Every body is different, and especially when you get into the transplant world … I think I’d be compromised,” in regard to immunity.

He noted that as late as July, doctors had told him not to get the vaccine. Complicating matters is that Kovick still goes to work, he told the newspaper.

Kovick says he is exploring other options and facilities to find a way to get a transplant without dealing with a vaccine requirement.

“I’m doing my due diligence to try to get myself an even better chance to get a transplant by being listed in multiple regions.”

Kovick adds that he has spoken with legal counsel but has not yet retained an attorney in this matter.

“I figure that if I need to have legal counsel and refuse to get the vaccine and was kicked off the transplant list, I probably would never see a penny of it because I’d probably be long gone and dead before that would ever happen.”

Susan Gregg, media relations director for the University hospital, said their doctors determine when a patient needs vaccination based on how much suppression of their immune system is needed to perform a surgery.

“The safety of our patients is our primary focus and guides discussions with our patients preparing to receive a solid organ transplant knowing that they will be on medications that suppress their immune system after the transplant,” wrote Gregg in an Aug. 18 email. “Our physicians make a determination regarding vaccine recommendations and requirements, including COVID-19 vaccination, based on the risk factors of the individual patient and degree of immunosuppression they will experience.  The suppression of their immune system puts them at increased risk for infections, including an increased risk for hospitalization and severe complications due to COVID-19.”

Kovick tells readers that he’s not the only one who has been denied procedures by the hospital over the vaccine.

“Several have already been kicked off the list,” said Kovick.

He also notes that several of his coaching colleagues have been affected by vaccine requirements imposed by governors in Oregon and Washington by Oct. 18, with several facing an early retirement as a result.

“We’re going to lose great teachers, we’re going to lose great coaches because of this. Medical freedom is really backed into a corner; in boxing terminology, you’re kind of on the ropes right now unless we stand up to it.”

With nurses in hospitals facing vaccine requirements as well, Kovick foresees a “snowball” effect across industries.

“Where does it end? It doesn’t, because it’s making [vaccine manufacturers] tens of billions of dollars every single year.”

Gregg also stated that because of immunosuppression needed post-surgery, patients don’t respond as well to the vaccine afterward.

“Many of these patients also have other health conditions that put them at increased risk for COVID-19, further increasing the importance of vaccination. Vaccinating patients prior to transplant increases their ability to respond to the vaccine and helps keep them safe throughout the transplant process. Patients should continue to discuss their individual risks with their doctors.”

Kovick urges the public to take care of their own health and stand up for their freedom.

“Don’t give an inch,” he said. “It should have never gotten this far.”

Kovick expressed gratitude to the nurses in Seattle and Boise who have cared for him since he was first diagnosed two decades ago.

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