Two-time heart transplant recipient Robbie Thompson, seen here with the family dog, Oreo, explains why mass vaccinations are important for immuno-compromised people like himself. Photo supplied.

Two-time heart transplant recipient Robbie Thompson, seen here with the family dog, Oreo, explains why mass vaccinations are important for immuno-compromised people like himself. Photo supplied.

Two-time Courtenay heart transplant recipient urges COVID vaccine opponents to reconsider

Two-time heart transplant recipient Robbie Thompson has had a lifetime of dealing with adversity.

The COVID-19 pandemic is something completely different for the Courtenay resident.

As an organ transplant recipient, Thompson is immuno-compromised. His compromised immune system is a byproduct of the medication he takes to stay alive. And when he reads or hears about rallies such as the protests organized throughout the province on Sept. 1, he finds it particularly upsetting.

A small crowd gathered across the street from the North Island Hospital Comox Valley campus to protest the vaccination passports, which come into effect on Sept. 13. Photo by Erin Haluschak

“I’ve heard a lot of people speaking out against the vaccines, for a variety of reasons that are their own, and we all have our own opinions, and that in itself is fine,” he said. “However, the (protests) that are taking place… I feel that although it may be well-meaning, is also potentially very dangerous, not just for people like myself… but people who are older, or medically unable to get the vaccine.

“The reason we commit to these vaccinations is not only to help ourselves, but also to help protect and better the lives of millions of other people across our community, the country, and the world at large.”

Look at the bigger picture

He said that while he understands the frustration people have regarding the concept of mass vaccinations, he asks everyone to look at the larger picture.

“When they talk about the tyranny of mass vaccinations, would they say that to somebody from India, where they had to burn bodies in the street because so many people had died? I understand the sentiment, and I wish to respect others’ opinions, but I feel that as a medically frail person, it feels a little disregarding of others and the situation at large. I don’t expect people to understand what I have been through, and I am not looking for pity. I just ask for empathy – asking others to protect those around them as well as themselves.

“There is a level where autonomy becomes destructive to everyone else, and I think that we can have a healthy balance between wanting that autonomy and respecting the livelihoods and the well-being of everyone else in our communities.”

Thompson said his situation is precarious, in that he cannot be sure how his body would react to a COVID-19 infection.

“There are some cases that I have heard of in which (transplant recipients) have survived, but it’s really a dice roll as far as I am aware,” he said. “It’s a little scary, because if someone coughs on me, I genuinely don’t know if that’s going to be the end of me. I’ve had to deal with that my whole life but it’s a little heavier now. I hardly leave my house these days, because if I were to go and get groceries and someone coughs on me, that could be it.

“It’s kind of like I am being forced to play Russian roulette, and everyone else has their finger on the trigger. People who refuse vaccines and refuse masks, they sometimes pull the trigger, and they sometimes load the bullets. It’s a bit of a dramatic metaphor but that’s what it can feel like.”

Tina Robinson, manager of communications for BC Transplant, explained the efficacy of the COVID vaccines among transplant recipients may not be as high as with others, which is one reason transplant recipients must be extra cautious, even after being fully vaccinated.

“There is evidence that transplant recipients, who are immunosuppressed, have less immune response to the COVID-19 vaccines available in B.C.,” she said.

Elongated isolation

Those who know Thompson would describe him as an extrovert. He has a bubbly personality, which comes through in his YouTube video, “Why I’m Still in Quarantine.”

He’s an accomplished athlete, with several Canadian Transplant Games gold medals to his credit. He has competed in mixed martial arts, has done numerous public speaking engagements and even has an annual slo-pitch tournament named after him (the Comox Valley Kin Club’s Robbie Thompson Charity Slo-Pitch Tournament). The events of the past 18 months have forced Thompson to isolate from nearly everyone.

“I’ve been isolated and only seeing a few people for the last year and a half,” he said. “There was a stint there for almost a year that I didn’t see my dad, I didn’t see my brother… because the situation just gets dangerous. And now with the new variant, I am having to re-engage that sort of bunker mentality.

“I get that everyone is sort of fed up with this whole thing now, but as soon as everyone can get their vaccinations and booster shots, the faster this can all be over and set and done with. If we get over the hurdle, hopefully, it’s pretty smooth sailing after that.”

RELATED: Courtenay athlete celebrates 20th anniversary of heart transplant
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