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Breaking health orders no joke to those most vulnerable to COVID-19

Jamie Chafe of St. John's had a double lung transplant because of cystic fibrosis. He says catching COVID-19 could be a death sentence for him. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Jamie Chafe of St. John's had a double lung transplant because of cystic fibrosis. He says catching COVID-19 could be a death sentence for him. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Peter Jackson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

We are the vulnerable ones, the “onlies,” and we have one simple request: STAY HOME.

Don’t mingle outside the grocery stores. Don’t pile your buddies into a car and go for a drive. Forget hanging out in the shed with the b’ys.


Who or what are onlies?

We’re the ones that COVID-19 poses the most danger to, as in, “Only a fraction of cases result in severe symptoms.”

Tell that to the family of the 78-year-old grandfather who died March 29 in St. John’s after a short battle with the disease.

Lynn Hammond
Lynn Hammond

“Honestly, this use of the word ‘only’ — it’s only the elderly people, etc. — it’s quite insulting,” says Lynn Hammond of St. John’s, “because my life obviously has as much value as anyone else’s. So I really wish politicians would stop using that word.”

Hammond has lupus, a disease that can take on many forms, but primarily causes her chronic joint pain. To manage her condition, she has to take drugs that suppress her immune system.

That leaves her open to infections, especially from a virus that’s brand new, with no vaccine to prevent it.

“As you can imagine, COVID-19 is incredibly scary for me,” she says

And if you think her situation is bad, take Jamie Chafe, also of St. John’s.

“I live with cystic fibrosis, a lung and pancreas disease that is the No. 1 killer of young Canadians,” Chafe wrote in a recent email. “But added to that, almost three years ago, my life was saved when I had a double lung transplant.”

Chafe, 33, also takes medications to suppress his immune system.

“If I don’t take this medication, cells in my body will attack my lungs, causing them to weaken, and eventually fail, killing me,” he said. “But on the flip side, these medications will make it almost impossible for me to fight off a virus such as COVID-19.”

Imagine what would happen if the coronavirus got into those lungs.

“So when I see my fellow Newfoundlanders disregarding orders that are in place for everyone’s safety, it is very upsetting,” Chafe said. “I’m just asking them to think about this: by going against the recommendations right now, they can in effect cause me to lose my life. And do they really want that on their conscience?”

Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson

When I took on the health beat at The Telegram in February, COVID-19 was mostly still an outside thing, something other parts of the world were grappling with. Within a month, the whole province was on lockdown.

I also take immune suppressants for a kidney transplant I had 12 years ago. When the government started offering the phone-in option for reporters at its daily update, I knew the wise thing would be to stay home. My wife all but insisted on it.

Now, reporters are no longer allowed to attend the briefings.

A recent Chinese study found that people with underlying conditions such as lung and heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and compromised immune systems have as much as a 79 per cent greater chance of needing intensive care and a respirator. Your chances are even slimmer if you have more than one existing illness.

Hammond says the last thing hospitals need is to be dealing with older people and those with underlying conditions if a COVID-19 surge ever occurs. As it is, more than 30 of the current cases are people over 70.

“These are people that you don’t want having complications right now, because you don’t want them in the hospital,” she said.

“When someone with an autoimmune disease has to go into hospital, whether they have COVID-19 or not, there’s a whole other level of risk for them.

“You don’t want us in the system right now.”

Chafe hopes people understand the gravity of what’s going on.

“I am pleading with my fellow Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to please STAY HOME unless it’s absolutely necessary to venture outside,” he said. “By doing so, you are protecting the most vulnerable, who include myself, the elderly and many immunosuppressed people living in this province.”

Peter Jackson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering health care for The Telegram.

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