Las Vegas man left devastated after liver transplant surgery was cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic

A Las Vegas man is starting all over in his quest to finding a new liver.

60-year-old Dave Capehart has been waiting for a liver transplant for two years.

"They said a liver was going to be available. It looks like a match verify," said Capehart.

He was supposed to go into surgery on Dec. 8, but was told they had to call it off.

Capehart rushes to Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale to undergo surgery, his second chance at life. Moments before, however, officials called Capehart and told him the transplant surgery for his new liver isn't happening: there are no beds available for post-surgery recovery.

"You make the trip, only to find out at the last minute that it’s off, and not due to the fact that the organ was not compatible," said Capehart. "Things happen, but to be told that ICU is full that we were not gonna be able to do this, you start that emotional roller coaster over again, it’s difficult," said Capehart.

Capehart and his family were devastated. Capehart says more should have been done by state officials to avoid this emotional rollercoaster, especially as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, and hospitals are now turning people away.

Capehart went on to say that everyone at Mayo Clinic has been wonderful during his journey, and while he has no idea when he will get another chance at a transplant, he's hoping it's soon.

Doctors concerned over pandemic's toll on transplant patients

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, doctors are concerned about the toll it will take on hospitals, in addition to transplant patients.

"The COVID pandemic has had a profound impact on transplants," said David Douglas, a Mayo Clinic physician and the Arizona Chair of the transplant center.

Dr. Douglas, says during the last COVID-19 peak over the summer, they had to turn down organs because the ICU was full.

"And not able to transplant those patients, thankfully, we were able to find them subsequent organ offers, but it is a real concern," said Dr. Douglas.

With case numbers reaching nearly what they were in July, the concern is the same thing could happen again. Dr. Douglas says transplants have a lot of moving parts they have to take into consideration, such as hospital space, staff available, as well ensuring that the donor is an appropriate match for the recipient.

In addition, those organs are not viable for very long. For example, a heart is only good for a few hours after leaving a person’s body, and livers are good for 12 hours. Kidneys, meanwhile, last between 24 to 48 hours.

"We are doing that on a constant basis, so anytime we get an organ offer, we talk to ICU colleagues to make sure we have the ability to do the transplant safely," said Dr. Douglas.

Dr. Douglas says if they are unable to use an organ, they do send them off to another hospital, but there are some cases where those organs cannot be used in the necessary timeframe. These surgeries, according to Dr. Douglas, are not elective surgeries being put on hold, as they are necessary, life-saving operations, which is why he is asking the public to do all they can to prevent the spread of the virus.

"We’re getting to the point now that sometimes, transplants are in jeopardy, and I think all of us need to take it upon ourselves to do what the experts are reminding us to do," said Dr. Douglas.