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On guard

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Immunocompromised families, people taking extra precautions during coronavirus pandemic

By Gerard Flanagan

Being the parent of an immunocompromised child, or being immunocompromised yourself, can be scary, frightening and fraught with uncertainty.

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The common cold, a minor inconvenience for the vast majority of the population, likely means a visit to the hospital for the immunocompromised.

These individuals, already on high alert for any sickness that might strike, must be especially vigilant now, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues to affect our very way of life.

For nearly a month and a half, Angela Jordan has been in quarantine at her home due to her son’s immunocompromised status. Her son, Axl, 5, has Down Syndrome.

“That means we haven’t seen anyone outside of four walls,” said Angela.

Her husband, Shelby, works for Fayette Heating and Air in Lexington. They have a strict routine they follow when he arrives home from work each day. He heads to the garage, takes off his work clothes and changes into a bathrobe before walking into the house. He then heads straight for the shower, while Shelby’s clothes are put directly into a trash bag and then into the washing machine, where they are washed by themselves.

Angela said her family is handling the self-isolation fairly well because this isn’t their first time quarantining.

“We’re going back to our coping mechanisms we used when we brought Axl home, because he spent such a long time in the NICU,” she said. “When we brought him home, they said you couldn’t just take him out and do everything you’d do with a normal baby.”

Angela admits she misses seeing family, although technology has allowed her and her family members to stay connected.

Angela and her family are also able to use online grocery pickup services to limit their contact with others.

“We have a pickup truck, so they set the groceries in the bed,” she said. “Everything is ordered and paid for online. When we get home, we take gloves, and we dump everything out on the garage floor and Lysol everything and use disinfecting wipes. We rinse our fruits and vegetables really good.”

For Angela, the thought of her son possibly contracting the virus is something that nearly brings Jordan to tears.

“I’m terrified,” she said. “I wouldn’t worry he wouldn’t be in best hands, but we would worry because he would be by himself. My biggest worry is that I, as a parent, couldn’t be with him.”

Angela has always been extra cautious and aware of sickness and illness going around, even before the coronavirus began to take root in the United States.

“A common cold to Axl is not what it is to everyone else,” she said. “When they were saying, ‘It’s just like the flu or a common cold,’ that was scary to me. As it unfolded, it got really scary. When you live with a medically fragile child, you’re constantly ready for danger.”

While this has certainly been a period fraught with uncertainty and concern, Angela hopes people will emerge from this time with more appreciation for the small things and have a changed perspective.

“If you are home, make the most of being home with your kids, and learn from this,” she said. “It really bothers me when people say they cannot wait for things to get back to normal. Those kids, whose parents are home right now, they’re playing board games, or they’re doing fun things with kids and those kids never want to go back to normal. Take something you’re doing now and continue it with your kids.”

 

‘It’s made us a little tougher and more self-sufficient’

Nearly two years ago, on May 31, 2018, Greg Browning had a kidney transplant. To ensure his body would not reject the new kidney, Browning, 57, was put on anti-rejection medication, which suppresses his immune system to prevent his body from rejecting the organ.

“I’ll be immunocompromised for the rest of my life,” he said.

Browning, like many others in similar situations, is taking as many precautions as he can to keep himself safe and healthy.

“I’m doing the hand cleaning and hand sanitizing,” he said. “I wear a mask if I go in public, which I don’t go in public very much. I avoid big stores. If I need something, I might go into a smaller store, where there aren’t a lot of customers.”

Browning works at TG Kentucky, but for more than a month, he has been off work. In fact, he was off three days with illness just before TG began sending workers home due to the virus.

“It took me away from a pretty good risk of me contracting it,” Browning said. “A lot of people, it would affect them hard. It would me, too. I can’t fight it off. I would be like an elderly person or somebody that doesn’t have quite the immunity.”

During this time of uncertainty and worry, Browning did receive some much-welcomed news. He recently became a grandfather when his daughter, Caroline, had a baby girl named Ellie Grace Dean.

“We did go to Spring View, and me and my wife and my daughter, Laura, looked at the baby through a window,” he said. “We looked like a bunch of peeping Toms.”

Browning has also had doctor’s visits to complete during this time, but instead of going to the office, he has been able to complete his appointment via telehealth from the comfort of his own home.

“You sit there with a doctor, and you talk, and they ask questions,” Browning said. “They change medications if they need to. That’s worked out really well. It’s probably something we’re going to see more of in the future.”

Like many people around the world, Browning never thought something like this would happen.

“What we’ve learned, it’s made us a little tougher and more self-sufficient,” he said. “Lots of generations have had to do this. It’s about like a war. That’s what it seems like to me.”

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