Todd Abbott, a K-4 technology integrator with Yarmouth schools, has multiple sclerosis and the medications he takes for it can compromise his immune system. He worries that unvaccinated children could pass diseases on to him. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Like most of Maine and the country, Courtney Ampezzan is practicing social distancing in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Courtney Ampezzan, 38, of Brunswick has a rare genetic disease that makes her extremely vulnerable to coronavirus infection. She is staying at her parents’ home in Falmouth. Photo courtesy of Courtney Ampezzan

But for Ampezzan – who has a rare genetic disorder – taking the protective measures, and counting on others to as well, could determine whether she lives or dies.

“Every time people don’t do social distancing is putting me closer and closer to death,” said Ampezzan, 38. “I can’t ring the alarm loud enough.”

Her genetic disorder – called WHIM syndrome – suppresses her immune system. While the overall mortality rate for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is estimated at between 1 and 2 percent, for Ampezzan the risk of death would be much greater, although it’s difficult to say how much.

Ampezzan, of Brunswick, is now isolated at her parents’ house in Falmouth, because her husband, Tony, is a Portland police officer and is exposed to too many people at work. She doesn’t see anyone in person other than her parents because of the risk.

Groceries are delivered to their front porch, and her parents wipe them down with disinfectants before bringing them into the house.

Ampezzan doesn’t dare walk around the block.

“The risk is so high. I’m terrified every day,” Ampezzan said. “I’m comfortable going into my backyard.”

Mainers like Ampezzan who have compromised immune systems make up about 3 percent to 4 percent of the population, 40,000 to 50,000 of the state’s population of 1.3 million. Some have compromised immune systems as a direct result of a disorder and others because of treatment for conditions such as leukemia, an organ transplant, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, HIV, lupus and others.

“These patients have a higher risk of severe disease,” said Dr. August Valenti, epidemiologist at Maine Medical Center. “We are trying everything we can to protect these folks. They need to be isolated at home right now.”

Ampezzan recently spent several weeks at Maine Medical Center for treatment designed to buttress her immune system in the long-term, but that temporarily weakens her immune response. Meanwhile, a global pandemic is extending its reach into Maine, which on Tuesday reported 118 confirmed coronavirus cases.

She said she was already practicing a form of social distancing, but had still been able to occasionally socialize with people.

“This has kind of been my normal, but now it’s really amped up,” Ampezzan said. “It’s very surreal.”

Ampezzan passes the time with games, books and movies. She played a virtual game of Yahtzee with her sister recently.

“It’s so comforting to see people on the computer. It’s helping me get through all of this,” Ampezzan said.

Todd Abbott, a Yarmouth elementary school teacher, has multiple sclerosis and a weakened immune system, and while his condition is not as severe as Ampezzan’s, he must also be extremely careful.

“Yeah, I’m not going to the grocery store right now,” Abbott said. “Our family is following the strictest interpretation of social distancing. We are pretty much keeping to ourselves.”

He said he walks around the block, but steers clear of others, and socializing is done virtually.

Ampezzan said it angers her to see people – such as college students partying at packed beaches on spring break – not take coronavirus seriously.

“It’s mind-blowing how self-centered they are,” Ampezzan said. “If I die, it’s on them.”

 

 

 

 

 

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