Why coronavirus raises concerns for the chronically ill

Published: Mar. 27, 2020 at 3:18 PM EDT
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Will chronically ill patients continue to get the care they need during the coronavirus pandemic? It's a concern we have heard across the region. Our Adam Sullivan talked with a mom and daughter in Bridgewater. The 13-year-old has Crohn's disease.

Reporter Adam Sullivan: How are you doing? What is going through your mind right now?

Kiara Nestler: Umm, I'm really scared of the virus.

Kiara was diagnosed with Crohn's disease at age 5. Crohn's is an inflammatory bowel disease with no cure. To treat it, medications suppress her immune system which makes her susceptible to other illnesses, like COVID-19.

Adam Sullivan: That must be a lot to handle for a 13-year-old?

Kiara Nestler: Yeah, it's really hard to think about. It's pretty hard to process.

Every six weeks, Kiara receives IV medication at the UVM Medical Center. Her last trip to Burlington was two weeks ago.

"If she doesn't have the medicine, the longer between the treatments, the more Crohn's symptoms she can have," explained mom Tamra Nestler.

Symptoms include abdominal pain and internal bleeding. But this mom has a bigger concern.

"What scares me the most, I guess, like in Italy, they are saying that the doctors have to decide who has the best chance of survival and who is going to have the longest healthiest life. I'm afraid she wouldn't make that cut," Tamra worried.

During the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals across the region have been changing the way they deliver care. There's a new push towards telemedicine and elective procedures have been postponed. But they are continuing to treat patients with chronic illness.

A spokesperson from the UVM Medical Center told WCAX News: "It is up to the individual physician to determine the urgency of each scheduled procedure/encounter on a patient-by-patient basis. Some patients will still need to come in for their treatment, and we are taking precautions to keep patients and staff safe."

The Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center offered a similar message: "Like hospitals around the nation and around the world, we're responding to the COVID-19 pandemic while also continuing to provide care for those who need it. We've instituted screening of patients and employees, and taken a number of other measures to ensure the health and safety of all who enter our facilities. The need for critical and chronic care continues, and our team, across the Dartmouth-Hitchcock system, continues to balance those two urgent demands."

It's a little bit of relief for a mom who has a lot on her mind.

"I'm worried about keeping her alive," Tamra said. "This is life or death to me. Nobody knows what is going to happen and how it is specifically going to affect my child or other children in her situation."

"We've heard from the hospital that there could be other potential at-home treatments but we don't know a lot about that yet," Kiara said.

Kiara says she also hopeful that as the medical community learns more about COVID-19, it may shine new light on a possible cure for her disease, as well.