Robbie Thompson is no stranger to hospitals, doctors, medical appointments and procedures.
The Courtenay, B.C., resident was only five months old when he was diagnosed with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy, which means the left side of his heart was too big for his body and continued to expand.
He received his first transplant at 18 months and then after contracting a coronary artery disease, he had to get another transplant when he was five years old.
He has had that heart ever since.
“As a result of my heart transplants, my heart is, of course, not my own, so I require immune suppressants in order to suppress my immune system so that my body doesn’t attack my heart,” Thompson told Global News.
However, due to his suppressed immune system, he cannot get certain vaccines and he is extremely susceptible to viruses such as chickenpox or measles.
“It can be very deadly for me potentially,” he said.
He has been able to get both COVID-19 vaccines but the BC Transplant Society has told him the efficacy of the vaccines on people with vulnerable immune systems is still under investigation.
“It’s really a dice roll. It provides a layer of protection but it’s not as successful as someone with a healthy immune system would be, getting the vaccine,” he said.
Thompson said he understands people are hesitant to get the COVID vaccine and he has undergone so many medical procedures himself that he knows medical professionals can’t know everything all the time.
“Believe me, I get it,” he said.
“But it makes somebody like myself, and there are many other medically vulnerable people like myself, it makes us feel very thrown away.”
He said seeing comments from people who are against the vaccine telling him that he’ll just have to “stay home” to protect himself is very hurtful.
“I didn’t choose to be immune-suppressed,” he said. “I don’t think any of us did and it feels very disrespectful because what can be interpreted there is ‘you have this thing wrong with you, you don’t get a life. Off you go. We’ll do whatever and you can just sit in your home’.
“And I think I can speak for all of us, immune-suppressed or not, that we’re quite tired of that. I would like to see my family without threat that if someone breathes on me or coughs on me too close, then that’s it.”
He said he wants people to consider if they or one of their loved ones was in his position.
“It’s not just for you, it’s for everybody around you.”
Thompson added that when he needs to go out, it sometimes feels like he is “rolling the dice.”
“I don’t know who’s vaccinated and who’s not vaccinated. If someone is not vaccinated and I don’t know, and they happen to breathe or cough on me while I’m out in the street and nobody’s masked, that could be it for me.”
“That could be the end. Two weeks. The likelihood that I will survive that is relatively low.
“I have been through a lot and I like life. I would like to continue having life. And I know there are many people who would feel similar.”