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Elective surgeries postponed in Oregon because hospitals are filled with COVID patients

People who need knee replacements, heart procedures and other surgeries are having to wait because the state's hospitals are filled with COVID-19 patients.

PORTLAND, Oregon — Oregon's major hospitals normally do hundreds of surgeries a month, but these are not normal times. Hospital space is tight, reserved for emergencies and COVID patients.

That means people like Paul McElhiney, a school bus driver who lives in Tigard, has to live with his knee pain. His knee replacement surgery is currently on hold.

“My knees are totally bone on bone. Kneecap bone. So that’s what’s tough,” he said.

Christie Finn of Milwaukie needs surgery on her stomach.

“Basically, my stomach is dead. So, they’re gonna have to remove it. And I’ve been on a feeding tube since April. I can’t have any solid food. It all has to be liquid,” she said.

Her surgery is also on hold, and she is losing her sympathy for those who will not get vaccinated. The majority of people currently hospitalized in Oregon for COVID-19 are not vaccinated.

RELATED: 'Frustrating is not even an adequate word': Health care worker's unvaccinated mom in ICU with COVID-19

“I’m frustrated. You know, it all could be — its preventable. Its preventable! I mean at first, I was very sympathetic and I’m sorry that people are sick and that they’re dying … but there’s others of us out there that — I’m immunocompromised, I mean I have other conditions going on,” she said.

Barb Russell in central Oregon has a racing heart because she suffers from atrial fibrillation.

“AFib is when your heart beats irregularly and the blood then coagulates into the atrium. Then when the heart finally calms down and gets back to normal, it can pump out blood clots. And those can cause strokes, death, whatever," she said.

Her procedure is also postponed indefinitely, likely after the COVID-19 delta variant surge quiets down.

“Yes it upsets me that people are protesting! Don’t get vaccinated, don’t wear masks. Well, I’m sorry but you’re messing with my life! So, I’m bitter,” she said.

There are plenty of others frustrated by the rise in unvaccinated COVID-19 patients. 

RELATED: 'The pain is honestly worse than the hunger': Oregon's overwhelmed hospitals delaying surgeries for others

Melanie Johnston from Cornelius spent two years searching for a solution to her lower back pain. It was going to be surgery until it was put on hold. 

Shari Young, who needs a hernia operation to relieve her pain, is also waiting now for a new surgery date.

When you hear about elective surgeries being postponed, these are the sorts of procedures and people being impacted. 

Hospitals are cutting back on the surgeries because in some cases, the patients would need to recover for a night or two and there is no room. Some have said surgeries are being canceled because those recovery rooms are being used for COVID patients. 

And even where there might be an open bed, there are not enough nurses and other medical workers to care for the patient who would be put there.

Gerald Schoof in Sister, Ore., hopes he can keep walking. He has multiple sclerosis and his spine is degenerating.

“There’s multiple surgeons and they’re gonna go in my front, my back and my side,” he said.

He's been active most of his life but now, with his surgery delayed, Schoof is terrified of ending up in a wheel chair.

“Definitely yes,” he said, tearing up. “Sorry, I get emotional about it. It’s frustrating though."

He's seen people protesting against vaccinations and proclaiming it is their right to skip the COVID shot. He has also felt the impact of those personal choices, which have delayed so many surgeries including his own. 

“Early on, I was kind of passive. Now I’m getting angry and disgusted. I really am,” he said.

After speaking with KGW, Schoof received a ray of hope. His daughter said the hospital called to have him come in and get prepared for his surgery. He is scheduled to have 20 hours worth of surgery, broken into two days, over Labor Day weekend.

Have a comment or story idea for reporter Pat Dooris? Email him at pdooris@kgw.com