Fawn Kruger was born with Cystic Fibrosis and survived a double lung transplant. Now, the Organ Donation advocate opens up about the vaccine and what it would mean to anyone living with comorbidities.
Johannesburg, South Africa (11 June 2021) – On the 31st of December 2019, the world shifted when the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission released a media statement about cases of ‘viral pneumonia’ in the capital of the Hubei province.
Little did we know then that this virus would become a pandemic and one of the greatest global shocks in decades. Millions of lives have been lost, and it seems that older people are more at risk of becoming severely ill if they get COVID-19. This is why the Health Department is urging all South Africans to play their part in protecting the more vulnerable members of society – people over 60 and older – from becoming infected with the virus.
People with a comorbidity may also face a greater risk of becoming severely ill and so need to take extra care until they receive the vaccine. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the top five comorbidities are hypertension, obesity, chronic lung conditions like TB, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), asthma and cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and cardiovascular conditions like coronary heart disease, congenital heart disease and heart failure.
Fawn Kruger – one of the Founders and the Marketing Director of TELL – sat down with us to chat about living during COVID-19 with cystic fibrosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and a double lung transplant.
Fawn and her husband, Travis, have been under strict lockdown since the beginning of March 2020. The couple decided to safeguard themselves from the virus, which meant living with as little contact as possible until the foreseeable future. The young woman says that living through COVID-19 has been like a rollercoaster that never seems to end.
“When we first heard about COVID-19, everyone was still saying ‘it’s no worse than flu’ in an effort to stay calm. Then the narrative shifted to ‘young, healthy people are dying, and they don’t know how to treat it’. It’s been a constant battle of trying to find a middle ground amongst all the hype, and for me, that meant turning to my team of specialists for the ‘truth’.
And it’s specialists that believe we all need to be looking after each other by taking the precautions to not spread the virus.
Fawn believes that South Africans started united and were prepared to make sacrifices to keep the vulnerable safe. But, naturally, ‘COVID fatigue’ has set in, and people just want to get back to normal.
“I get it, and I don’t blame people for shifting their mindsets if they are privileged enough to be healthy.”
But for her, being careful and having to take extra precautions to keep herself safe isn’t anything new; the double lung transplant survivor knows that she cannot have ‘COVID fatigue’ and needs to keep her guard up at all times until the vaccine becomes available for everyone.
“What is different is not knowing how long this is going to last. After my transplant, I knew I had to wear a mask in public for 3 months. During winter, I know I need to be extra careful for a few months while everyone is getting flu. With COVID-19, we don’t know, and a vaccine is the only bit of hope we have to be able to let our guard down a bit.”
One of the most harrowing things about the virus is how quickly our hospitals fill up during the “waves”, which is a side to the pandemic that many overlook but one that has impacted Fawn the most. Living with a chronic illness also means that she spends a lot of time in hospital.
“It’s reassuring to know that my team are always there to help if one of my organs start misbehaving. Usually, when I get sick, it’s critical and requires immediate hospitalisation and treatment. However, during COVID-19, when the hospitals fill up, it causes anxiety to know that if I need to be admitted, I may not be able to get a bed.”
During the start of COVID-19, Fawn developed kidney stones and needed emergency surgery to remove the one stone that was too big to pass on its own. Unfortunately, the usual ward with nurses who know her unique condition turned into a COVID-19 ward. So she was put into ICU with no one that understood her illness, making it a lot more difficult. On top of this, she wasn’t allowed any visitors due to COVID-19 protocols, so she had to spend ten days in hospital on her own, without the incredible support she usually gets from her husband and friends.
Travis says that it’s been tough having to make such big changes in their lives.
“Changes that I’ve never had to do as a privileged person with no health issues. Everyone has their own battles and their own opinions about all of this; there have been many mistakes, and many lessons learnt, but I’ll keep living this way for as long as it takes, just as long as Fawn is safe.”
The presence of comorbidities does not necessarily put you at higher risk for contracting COVID-19, as everyone is equally at risk of becoming infected. This is why we must all take precautions to prevent infection. However, should you get infected and have a comorbidity, you have a higher risk of getting it more severely. The severity of your symptoms will depend on how well you are taking care of yourself and managing your pre-existing condition.
The CDC has listed five ways that we can protect ourselves and others against COVID-19 while slowing the spread; wearing a mask that covers our nose and mouth, staying 2 meters away from others, avoiding large crowds, washing our hands with soap often and finally, the best way to help people around the world get through this pandemic is getting the vaccine.
And until the vaccine becomes available to everyone, the couple will keep isolating and avoiding large crowds in order to keep themselves safe.
“One of the biggest sacrifices I’ve had to make is missing my only sibling’s wedding last week. My brother set his wedding date last year, and we had hoped that COVID-19 would have settled by May this year, but sadly the risk for me was still too high, so I had to stay at home while the wedding took place. I’ll never be able to go back and have those memories; all I have to mark the special occasion is a few WhatsApp pictures I was sent on the day. I know it was the right decision to make, but it doesn’t make it an easy one.”
The vaccine brings hope to the couple and means that Fawn and Travis will not have to live in constant fear anymore; it means not having to miss out on special occasions because “you are more at risk”, not having to sanitise every single grocery item that comes into their home – which they still do – and not having to give air hugs to the people you love and so desperately want to hug for real.
The Solidarity Fund was designed as a rapid response vehicle to mobilise South Africa against the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting health, humanitarian and social consequences. The incredible initiative is a nonprofit organization that is set up to support Mzansi with the South African spirit of ubuntu in these unprecedented times.
“This has always been the South African way. Now more than ever, we need to remember that we are a nation of people who overcome, who encourage and uplift each other and who can inspire new ways of being. We will overcome COVID-19 together and will be stronger as a nation,” says Wendy Tlou, The Solidarity Fund’s head of the Humanitarian Response and Behaviour Change Pillars.
For more information on the benefits and facts about the COVID-19 vaccine, please check out the Solidarity Fund by clicking here.