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Surgeries halted as Utah kidney patient waits for transplant

SALT LAKE CITY — Intermountain Healthcare announced it will be pausing non-urgent surgeries and procedures that require hospital admission due to a spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations, and a Cache Valley woman said that pause means her husband will have to continue to wait for a kidney transplant.

Paul Kelley, a father of three young children, was diagnosed with Stage 5 kidney failure nine months ago.

The same day he learned the hopeful news that he finally passed qualifications to be on the National Kidney Registry, Intermountain Healthcare announced its pause on surgeries.

All non-urgent surgeries and procedures requiring hospital admission or postoperative care will be postponed, beginning Sept. 15.

Intermountain postponing non-urgent surgeries due to spike in COVID hospitalizations

“He is at 5% kidney function right now, which is nothing,” said his wife, Corinne Kelley. “We are trying to reset our patience and tolerance, but this really hurts.”

None of Paul Kelley’s siblings matched him for a donor. The Kelleys’ friend and neighbor had the same blood type and offered to donate a kidney, but doctors said it still wasn’t close enough and Kelley was put on the National Kidney Registry.

“If his perfect match was to be found right now, we would have to pass up that kidney because surgeries are halted. That is heart-wrenching,” Corinne Kelley said. “Every week that is wasted is scary. How much longer can his body hold out?”

The Kelleys have an 8-, 6- and 3-year-old. Kelley said her children want their father to be healthy so he can play with them.

Paul Kelley with his three children. (Kelley family)

“He truly is the most positive person you’ll ever meet. He enjoys camping, boating and everything outdoors. The only time I have seen him down, throughout this difficult process, is when he found out surgeries were canceled,” she said.

Intermountain Healthcare officials said the delay in surgeries will last a minimum of three weeks. While immediate life-saving surgeries will continue, there are hundreds of patients needing urgent surgeries.

“Those needing urgent surgery are the ones who are being denied care, and that’s hard to stomach,” Kelley said. “Priority is being given to those who have decided not to seek available medical help. This mess could have been avoided.”

Intermountain said the majority of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated — 87% overall — and 93% of COVID-19 patients in the ICU are unvaccinated.

“Dialysis only ‘buys him time’ until a transplant can be received,” Kelley said. “His life is currently dependent on a machine. A transplant is literally the only option to save his life, and we can’t get it because people’s personal choice has trickled into our lives.”

Kelley added this has been the hardest year in their marriage.

“My husband always says everyone has trials — this is just ours. He is trying to be optimistic. But this is very hard, and I am scared.”

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