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Keep families of immunocompromised children in mind during COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 9:52 PM, Mar 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-21 18:13:13-04

The COVID-19 pandemic has touched all aspects of life for people around the world, in the United States and in Montana. Sports have been canceled, restaurants have closed, and lives have been changed.

We still see many asking why all these mitigating steps are necessary. Below are two reasons why.

Just three weeks ago, 5-year-old Finnley Grace Foster was enjoying a basketball tournament, ice skating, swimming and savoring her time at the grocery store.

The little things that most families take for granted.

“We were done shopping in Sam's Club and she wouldn't let us check out,” Finnley’s mother Katie Whitmore said. “She's like, ‘Keep going.’ So, we just wandered around the store for like 15 minutes.”

She paused.

“I have not seen my daughter have that much joy and that big of a smile in years since she was probably about 2 before all of this started.”

Finnley, the daughter of Whitmore and Pat Foster, was diagnosed with severe combined immunodeficiency at a young age, leading to countless infections and an endless cycle of sickness and recovery. She has spent the majority of her life in hospitals or quarantined at home.

But following a successful bone marrow transplant, she was cleared to go out in public just last month.

The freedom was short.

With the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, doctors advised Finnley go back to isolation.

“We call it her magic bubble,” Whitmore said. “Constantly washing hands, no shoes allowed in the house just because you can bring so much in from outside. If we develop a runny nose, a sniffle, anything, we have to leave. We need to be away from Finnley until we can figure out what it is.”

There’s a misconception that COVID-19 disproportionately affects the elderly. But there are millions of children with compromised immune systems who are at high risk -- children like Finnley.

“People who haven’t been in the situation that Pat or I are in have no clue,” Whitmore said. “So I try to explain that her compromised immune system is like a newborn baby. A simple cold could kill Finnley. So, if she were to get COVID-19, which attacks the lungs, that could be deadly.”

Whitmore admits she’s had to bite her tongue on Facebook when she sees people downplaying the outbreak, continuing to ignore CDC guidelines, and not giving a thought to the people who are most at risk.

“It's such an eye-opening experience with Finnley, and it's kind of made me realize that the world's kind of selfish,” Whitmore said. “I understand it because I might have been like that before all of (Finnley’s health problems) started. But this is our daughter's life we're talking about.

"So if we have to put some restaurants on hold, we're going to, absolutely. I try to be so respectful and just let them know their opinion matters. But so does mine. And I have strong opinions because it's my daughter's life at risk.”

And Finnley is not alone. There are countless children at high risk from the novel coronavirus in Great Falls, including 5-year-old Troy Ross – the son of Great Falls Central football coach Wes Ross and his wife Callie.

Troy suffers from a rare autoimmune disease called pulmonary cappilaritis which causes his white blood cells to attack his lungs. The condition nearly took his life in September of 2018. The Ross family has watched the spread of COVID-19, knowing that eventually they’d have to shield their son.

“Yeah, it’s tough. You start to wonder if it’s overblown. You hope it is,” said Wes. “But last week on Friday, my principal, Angel Turoski at GFCC, told me to be prepared to stay home. I appreciate them allowing me to stay at home and putting my son’s well-being at the forefront.

“I only get one chance to be a father. It’s tough, but we see both sides of it and we’re erring on the side of caution.”

Ross understands it’s a stressful time for everyone, and restrictions on commerce and public gatherings lead to economic hardship.

“I have friends that have small businesses. When you cut off a resource for them to make a living, I understand their frustration,” Wes said. “But I see people saying that the coronavirus only severely affects two percent (of the population) and whether you care of not, Troy is my two percent and I can’t replace him. I want to do everything in my power to protect him and others.”

Troy appears healthy to the naked eye, but internally, he’s still very sick. And staying isolated could be a matter of life or death.

“His immune system is improving, but if he were to catch something like this, his chances of beating it are very small,” Wes said. “I don’t know what we would do. We can’t go to Seattle Children’s Hospital so I don’t know what the outcome would be. It’s not a risk we’re willing to take, so we’re trying everything we can to be proactive versus reactive.”

Near and dear to the hearts of the Ross family is the need for blood donations. Transfusions saved Troy’s life and continue to be an integral part of his treatment. But due to the spread of coronavirus, the American Red Cross is experiencing a nationwide shortage.

Over 5,000 drives have been canceled across the country, which leads to 170,000 less donations. A TroyStrong blood drive was set for Wednesday, March 25 at Riverview Elementary where Callie works – but with schools shut down, the venue was changed to the American Red Cross Blood Donation Center.

“Pretty staggering right now what’s going on,” Wes said. “We try hard to stay quarantined, but we’re going to do everything in our power to be smart and stay safe. But we’re going to donate on the 25th and hopefully others will as well.”

Plenty of time slots are still available for the blood drive on March 25. You can still register to donate by visiting redcrossblood.org and search for keyword TroyStrong.