Local at high risk for infection stays strong

The novel coronavirus has prompted people to wear masks in public places, to stay vigilant about washing their hands and to practice social distancing. While for many this is a new way of life, for Melissa Rodgers, this is nothing new.

Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at just 8 days old, Melissa has always dealt with the medical complications it causes — one of the most significant being respiratory issues. Cystic fibrosis causes mucus in the lungs to become sticky and thick, making those who have it more susceptible to lung infections and coughs, according to the Mayo Clinic. And Melissa knows that firsthand.

For 23 years she’s been wearing masks when needed and has had to make sure she steers clear of situations in which she could be exposed to a disease. There were times in her youth when she couldn’t go to a friend’s birthday party, or she wasn’t able to see a relative because they’d recently been sick. Now, it feels like everyone is starting to understand what it’s like to have to take extra precautions for the sake of respiratory health. People everywhere are getting a peek into what living with cystic fibrosis is like.

“It’s so crazy for me, because I never wanted to wear a mask because I’ve always felt different,” Melissa said. “And I never wanted to have those extra stares or (have people say) ‘Oh, she’s sick, she’s crazy,’ — little things like that. But now it’s such a norm for everybody everywhere you go to have a mask, and it’s kind of crazy because now everybody’s getting to live the reality that us with CF live all the time.”

Despite how difficult the pandemic has been, Melissa’s mother Stephanie agreed it’s been a good lesson for everyone on what it’s like to live with a condition like cystic fibrosis, and she hopes that will generate more compassion and understanding for people like Melissa.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t scary for Stephanie when Covid-19 started to spread though.

“With her body, any virus is scary enough, but here’s a new one and there’s no treatment for it and it’s really attacking people’s respiratory systems,” Stephanie said. “Well, she’s already been attacked due to the cystic fibrosis. So, initially, I was very scared.”

Stephanie said a particular video of a Covid-19 patient she saw on social media shook her to her core. The patient was talking about their experience with the virus and let out a deep, guttural cough — one that reminded Stephanie of someone with cystic fibrosis.

“It sounded just like someone with late stage CF,” she said. “This is a virus that anyone could catch, and this is how every normal person could sound. But that is basically how every CF person sounds.”

While Melissa has taken the coronavirus pandemic in stride and hasn’t let it rattle her, she has made some minor changes just to be safe. Melissa and Stephanie have placed a sign on their front door instructing delivery people to leave packages outside because there is an immunocompromised person living there. So when Melissa orders a package online, she waits until the delivery person is gone and then wipes down the whole package with disinfectant. It’s a little tedious, but worth it for the sake of her health.

Despite having to take extra precautions like those to stay safe during the era of Covid-19, both Melissa and Stephanie said they can’t let the virus interrupt their whole lives. Melissa had a well-deserved getaway to the beach for Memorial Day weekend and will soon leave for a trip to the West Coast. For Stephanie, that means trusting her daughter to be careful, but at 23 years old, she said she knows Melissa can keep herself safe. As a young woman, she needs to have fun too.

Luckily, last year Melissa found a medicine called Trikafta, which she described as a “miracle drug.” It’s intended for people with cystic fibrosis and has worked wonders for her respiratory health. She said it’s given her a sense of safety, and that without it, she would feel much more vulnerable to Covid-19.

“I really do believe that (Trikafta) plays a huge part in (helping me) not contract Covid because it makes me and my body feel actually normal,” Melissa said.

With her arsenal of medications, her caution and the support of her mother, Melissa is confident she’ll be just fine. Right now she’s just taking life day by day and looking forward to a bright, healthy future.

“If God throws Covid at me, I’ll face it head on,” she said.

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