Woman with compromised immune system asks community to take precautions to prevent COVID-19 spread

“For someone like me to get this virus, it could be devastating”

A San Antonio woman with a rare lung disease says she's taking even more precautions than usual to protect herself from respiratory viruses, including COVID-19. She's asking the community to take precautions to not only take care of themselves but also those who have a weak immune system.

San Antonio – Angela Michelle carries several bottles of hand sanitizer in her purse along with different face masks to protect herself when she ventures out into the public, something she rarely did before the COVID-19 outbreak.

“For someone like me to get this virus, it could be devastating,” Michelle said.

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She suffers from antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), an autoimmune disease that can cause clotting in arteries and veins. The disease has caused her to have a stroke and develop a rare form of pulmonary hypertension called chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension (CTEPH).

“My condition affects my lungs, so my lungs aren’t working at full capacity right now,” Michelle said.

A community spread of COVID-19 is a real fear for Michelle and others with similar disabilities.

Michelle said a procedure she had scheduled for April in San Diego, California, was canceled. She said she fears the continued concerns of the coronavirus could impact her ability to get the treatment she needs and be able to make the flight to California.

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“We’re scared that our medical facilities are going to get overwhelmed and we won’t even be able to get the regular treatment that we need to live the way that we can as best as we can,” she said.

Michelle said she feels that the community is not taking the virus seriously enough to take precautions not only for themselves but also for those at high risk with whom they come in contact.

“I think it’s been really disheartening for us to see the general public not take it as seriously as we feel like it should be because they don’t think it’s going to affect them. And for us, it does affect us,” she said.

Dr. Murray Cohen, an epidemiologist, said everyone, healthy or not, should be assessing the risks of what contracting the virus could mean for themselves and their families.

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“When we have pulmonary disease, underlying coronary disease, pulmonary disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases — we’ve got no way to fight this virus or reduce play to fight this virus since there is no treatment,” Cohen said. “The only defense you have if you get infected is your immune system fighting that virus. One of you is going to win, and one of you is going to lose.”

Cohen said even mild cases of COVID-19 could lead to pneumonia, which is why people need to avoid large gatherings, be vigilant with hand hygiene and travel through smaller airports if they must go.

Michelle is avoiding shopping centers unless she needs to and is hunkering down until things improve. She hopes this pandemic raises community awareness.

“This is a message that I think we need to hear for the flu and for the cold,” Michelle said. “I think that this virus, at least, I hope it makes us rethink how we operate as a society, as a community, and realize the impact that our actions have on each other and our world.”

About the Authors:

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.

Before starting KSAT in 2017, Lee was a photojournalist at KENS 5, where he won a Lone Star Emmy in 2014 for Best Weather Segment. In 2009 and 2010 Lee garnered first-place awards with the Texas Association of Broadcasters for Best Investigative Series in College Station, as well as winning first place for Staff Photojournalism in 2011 at KBTX.