Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Social distancing protects people like me


As COVID-19 continues to spread across the world and life as we’ve known it comes to a halt, I am frustrated and angered by people who have yet to take social distancing seriously.
Being someone who is considered at high risk for severe illness by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.), it is unsettling that my health lies in the hands of those who continue to have large gatherings and dismiss this pandemic as “just another cold or flu.”
If you’ve ever had a class with me, or overheard me talking with friends in the Brew, you’ve probably heard a mention or two of my “baby lungs.” No, my lungs aren’t actually baby-sized, but it’s easier (and cuter) than saying “my TBX4 gene mutation.”
Ever since the moment I was born, a mysterious complication plagued my lungs – one that couldn’t be figured out. But when I was a first-year at Augustana, my Cystic Fibrosis-like symptoms became less treatable. So, during my sophomore year, after multiple tests and scans, I went to Mayo Clinic Research Hospital to solve my life-long enigma. 
I was diagnosed with a mutation of the TBX4 gene which impacts skeletal structures. The only connection to the lungs it has, as I’m aware of, is to pulmonary hypertension (which I don’t have).
Put simply, my specific mutation of the gene:

  • has caused my lungs to be underdeveloped (one smaller than the other) 
  • my bronchial tubes to be twisted and bent
  • my air sacs to be too big, which traps infection 
  • and my windpipe to be enlarged so it collapses when I breathe 

My lungs function at 60 percent.
And now we face a rapidly spreading novel pandemic called COVID-19, a respiratory virus which poses danger to us all because there is no set treatment or vaccine due to how little is known about it. 
It is an illness so concerning to our welfare that it has caused our president to declare a national emergency and nationwide closings of schools and businesses. 
Cue panic. What could this mean for me if I were to contract the virus?
The problem is, no one knows the answer. However, my gut tells me it wouldn’t be good. 
“Having an underlying lung condition makes it more worrisome for anybody who gets any type of illness that’s going to attack their lungs,” Stephanie Misciasci, Augustana alumnus (‘06) and Hospitalist/Internal medicine and pediatrics physician, said. “We know that COVID does attach to receptors within the lungs. People who are dying because of COVID are mostly dying because they develop what’s called diffuse alveolar disease, or acute respiratory disease (ARDS)… And if your lungs are not normal at baseline, you have less room for adapting or compensating for a respiratory illness.”
According to Stephanie Finley, Augustana alumnus (‘00) and naturopathic physician, the virus can also produce pneumonia-like symptoms, or pneumonia in general.
Respiratory physician John Wilson, in an article by The Guardian, said that those who will develop severe illness will first experience cough and fever due to infection of the respiratory tree which then becomes inflamed. From there, the virus will enter the gas exchange units, causing inflammation in the air sacs. This then prevents the body from being able to take in oxygen, expel carbon dioxide and transfer oxygen to the bloodstream. 
Another danger of the virus, and perhaps the scariest one, is that people can be infected and not even know it.
“You could be asymptomatic, meaning that you could be walking around and not even know that you have this symptom, or have had the virus because you’re not exhibiting any symptom,” Finley said. “… That’s the ones that I have the biggest concern about, is those that are walking around, not showing any of the symptoms but actually have the virus, and then they can spread it to other people.”
Now, I’m not telling you these things because I want your pity – I don’t. I want your protection. 
Though the virus presents itself through cold and flu-like symptoms, Misciasci said “it’s very much unlike anything that our bodies have seen.”
“Compared to the flu, the influenza numbers are way bigger. The death rates are way bigger, but we know the death percentage from the patients that are positive with Coronavirus is higher,” Nona Fulk, Augustana alumnus (‘91) and OB/GYN physician said. “… So if Coronavirus were to mimic the influenza numbers, we would see 10 times the death rates that we do with that… It could very easily get out of control.”*
This information is terrifying for anyone. For an almost 22-year-old woman, who loses her breath walking from Old Main to the Gerber Center or while climbing one flight of stairs, whose lungs hurt with shifts in the weather, who has grown so used to wheezing she doesn’t even realize she’s doing it anymore, all of this information is doubly terrifying.
I know as college students, we’d like to think that our youth makes us immune to illness. But this isn’t true.
The C.D.C reported on March 18, according to the New York Times, that “of the 508 patients known to have been hospitalized, 38 percent were notably younger — between 20 and 54.”
According to WREX, two Northern Illinois University students recently tested positive for the virus. In California, a 17-year-old has died. And now, in Illinois, an infant has contracted COVID-19, as stated in the Chicago SunTimes
“You really don’t know how precious breathing is until that’s taken away from you and you’re connected to a ventilator breathing through what is essentially a straw,” Marsha Gracielle, Augustana Alumnus (‘14) and ICU nurse said. 
Listen to me: you are not invincible. Even though COVID-19 might not kill you, the fact that you are a healthy 20-something does not make you immune from this virus. 
Practice social distancing. Do it for people like me – there are people like me among you. I can assure you with absolute certainty that I am not your only peer who has an underlying health condition.
We need you to protect us. And I’m not gonna lie to you, that sucks because I know some of you are blatantly refusing to help us. 
Help us. You can either be a part of a force that saves someone like me, or part of one that hurts us. Make the right decision.
Do your part to help flatten the curve. Please.
*Because COVID-19 is a brand new virus, data is likely to be roughly estimated.

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Social distancing protects people like me