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For those with compromised immune systems, reopening means staying home longer

For many, reopening serves as a light at the end of a tunnel of a long lockdown. But for the people with compromised immune systems, it means something different.

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — "We're all in this together."

It's the saying used over and over again in regards to the coronavirus pandemic. 

For many, reopening serves as a light at the end of a tunnel of a long and lonely lockdown. It's the start of a new normal.

But as California counties, including Sacramento, move into reopening both society and the economy, not all are able to go forward. Those with compromised immune systems are being left behind.

Priscilla Gutierrez-Wong, 28, is one of them. She has a rare form of muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair and ventilator assistance. A common cold is difficult for her to recover from.

But that hasn't stopped her from slowing down. She has traveled, spends time in the community and volunteers — but that was all before the pandemic.

In the last 64 days, she's only been outside of her home once.

"I operate my wheelchair with my tongue, so to cover my mouth and still be able to drive my chair is a little difficult," Gutierrez-Wong said. "[The pandemic] has made my world get smaller than it already was to begin with... it feels like the rest of the world gets to go back to normalcy, there is a population that isn't going to be able to do so."

Gutierrez-Wong isn't the only one in Sacramento having to continue to shelter in place. Both Katie Terry and Melissa Tellington are right there with her.

Terry has an autoimmune disease that attacks her joints and skin. 

"I have to take what are known as immune-suppressants in order to stop my immune system from attacking my body," Terry said. "My body is constantly in this fight and recovery state... I could die [from COVID-19 or] I could be in the hospital for months. There's so many unknowns and it's something I'm not willing to put myself in a position where I'm 30 years old, spending months in the ICU fighting for my life."

Tellington is also on immune-suppressant medications after her body began rejecting a liver transplant. In order for her immune system to not attack the "foreign" liver, the medications suppress it which makes it more vulnerable.

"I don't look like I'm sick," said Tellington. "So, you never know what the person next to you is going through or if they're OK... because they might not be OK."

Returning to life before the pandemic isn't something in their near future. That harsh reality is difficult, especially as Terry is considered an essential worker. 

She worked in the field of behavioral analysis with families of children with autism. When the coronavirus pandemic began, she had to choose to stay home and forego work. While her employer has been understanding — she has unemployment assistance through July — Terry said she is concerned as July feels "like it's quickly approaching."

"I definitely feel like I'm in limbo," Terry said.

Living in limbo is a familiar feeling to Marques Washington. After serving in the Navy, a combination of high blood pressure and other health issues caused him to undergo open heart surgery and have failing kidneys.

Since 2016, he has been on the transplant list for a kidney and goes to dialysis three times a week at four hours a time.

While he's able to work from home through the pandemic, he hopes those reentering the world keep those in mind who are unable to do so.

"It's not just about you. My firm belief is we share this world together — our gift is each other," said Washington. "It's about what you do sometimes that affects other people and you've always got to be cautious."

Follow the conversation on Facebook with Andie Judson.

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