P.E.I. woman with cystic fibrosis needs Islanders' help to stay healthy

A P.E.I. woman who lives with cystic fibrosis is hoping Islanders will heed the warnings and recommendations of chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison.

The current global pandemic has grounded planes, closed borders and even shut down cities. And while people scramble for supplies, Karen Adams has bigger concerns.

Adams was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was a baby. The disease can cause conditions like lung infections, pneumonia and eventually lung failure — there is currently no cure.

"A common cold has sent me to the [intensive care unit] in the past," said Adams, who has been self-isolating at her home in Alberton, P.E.I., this week. 

"It terrifies me to think about what contracting COVID-19 could do."

With a two-year-old, it's hard to keep them from, you know, touching everything. So I just decided to keep her home with me,. — Karen Adams

For Islanders, Adams has only one request.

"I would be infinitely grateful if people would just stay home," she said.

"It's just better safe than sorry."

To a stranger, Adams looks completely healthy. But the mother of two needs five hours of inhaled medication and physiotherapy daily.

"My health is always at the forefront of my mind," Adams said. "I do spend a large portion of my day doing treatments and just taking preventative measures."

Greater risk 

According to the World Health Organization, the majority of people who have died from the coronavirus also had underlying health conditions.

"People with cystic fibrosis fall under that immune-compromised category," said Ray Carmichael, the president of the P.E.I. chapter of Cystic Fibrosis Canada. "So we as caregivers strive to be as diligent as possible."

It sounds dramatic but I'm just scared. — Karen Adams

He's asking all Islanders to listen to recommendations from the Chief Public Health Office and practise self-isolation and good handwashing practices.

"Maybe you would not have much issue if you came in contact with the virus but you never know who you may be passing it on to and what difficulties they may incur because of that," Carmichael said. 

In an email, Dr. Charles Dela Cruz, the founding director of the Center for Pulmonary Infection Research and Treatment at Yale University, said patients with cystic fibrosis are at risk of pulmonary infections including the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.  

He said some living with cystic fibrosis have impaired chronic lung functions putting them at greater risk for infection and severe disease.

'I'm just scared'

Adams said she has always had a heightened awareness of what she touches in public, though that's been amplified since hearing about the virus around a month ago.

For the past week, her husband has been doing the grocery shopping and picking up medication, while Adams self-isolates at home with her daughter. 

"With a two-year-old, it's hard to keep them from, you know, touching everything. So I just decided to keep her home with me," she said. "It sounds dramatic, but I'm just scared."

Health officials have laid out recommendations to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 in Canada, including social distancing, washing your hands and self-isolation.

Adams said she understands for some it can be inconvenient, but she's asking people to consider how their actions can affect others. 

'Just want to be here'

This is a very real situation for Adams and her family. Her brother also had cystic fibrosis and died five years ago. She said she wants to be here to watch her daughters grow up. But when you're living with such a serious disease, getting sick brings many uncertainties.

"I'm very worried," she said. "I really do think, you know, we'd kind of become a statistic. And that really scares me."

So for the time being, Adams will stay at home, wash her hands, self-isolate and hopes other Islanders do the same.

"I was fearful and I definitely am still," she said. "I just want to be here with my family."

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call your local public health authority. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.