At risk: Braving the coronavirus with a compromised immune system

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SANDY — With the numbers of coronavirus increasing, it’s understandable why people are getting a little nervous. But people like Heidi Petersen have more reason to worry than most because she has multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. What do people like her do in a pandemic like this? 

They do their best. 

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Heidi was diagnosed with MS in July 2015. As her body started shutting down, she welcomed an opportunity to get better: a procedure in Mexico called HSCT that would reboot her immune system. After months of saving and kind donations, Heidi had the procedure done in August 2019. 

While exciting, the process wasn’t easy. She had her stem cells removed, underwent chemotherapy, then had her stem cells put back. The process wiped out all her previous immunizations and she was left with the immune system of a newborn baby. Because of the new immune system, she had to be completely isolated in a sterilized house for six months.

After six months, Heidi had two blissful weeks to go out and see her family and eat at all the restaurants she’d been dreaming about. 

Enter coronavirus. 

Now, Heidi’s back to isolation because she is a high-risk case of severe illness if she were to contract coronavirus. 

“One of the frustrating things for me is when I see people talk so nonchalantly about [the coronavirus],” said Heidi. “They say, ‘Oh well, it doesn’t matter, I’m healthy.’ Well it does matter! Because you’re putting a lot of people at risk by not following the rules.”  

Heidi explained that those at high-risk aren’t concerned about stocking up on toilet paper; they’re worried about getting their medications. They’re worried to even step outside their doors! 

But luckily, there are ways people can be more sensitive to the needs of others. Heidi suggested that it starts with being a good neighbor and checking up on those who are immunocompromised or elderly. Offer to drop off groceries at their door or simply give them a phone call to ask if they’re okay.

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The biggest consideration, said Heidi, is to stay away from large gatherings, wash your hands and don’t stockpile on things you don’t need. 

Heidi’s plea is that everyone simply think about how their actions are affecting others. She believes that if everyone comes together against this disease, it will stop spreading and help so many people who are at risk. 

“Just help each other out,” she said, “and we’ll all make it through this.” 

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