Distance makes the heart grow fonder

How COVID-19 affected a family with an immunocompromised member

Story by Mikayla Zverina, culture editor

It is no secret that this year has had its trials, especially with the notorious strains the coronavirus has put on individuals. One person’s family in particular has been greatly affected by this seemingly never ending phenomenon. 

Senior Jalena McDermott’s little sister, Livia, was born with two aortic valves instead of three. The doctors believed that it wasn’t a very pressing issue until she began to get more and more tired during physical education. They took her to the hospital to find out that one of the only two aortic valves she had was clogged. In November 2019, a few months before a global pandemic was to arrive, Livia had open heart surgery. 

Since Jalena lives with her mom instead of her dad and sisters, she wasn’t able to see Livia with her being much more susceptible to illnesses after her surgery. 

How did you feel at first knowing what your sister was going to go through? 

It was so stressful and scary just to know that my 10-year-old sister was going to be going through this whole surgery, with the bypass machines and everything, with less than a month’s notice. It’s pretty scary knowing that my sister is immunocompromised and then a global pandemic hits.

How long did she have to stay out of school? 

Livia was already out of school until late February because her immune system was too weak to handle it during flu season. She ended up going back to school at the end of February, and then two weeks later, they shut down the schools.

How long were you not able to see her?

I couldn’t go see her for a while. I saw her in late August for her birthday, which is the 31, so it was five or six months that I wasn’t able to go down there and see her.

What precautions had to be taken? 

My dad and stepmom had to work from home, my other little sister, Kaylynn, couldn’t go out with her friends and obviously Livia couldn’t either. They were trying to be as careful as possible to avoid bringing back something.

How was it not being able to see your family?

It was rough. I love my sisters with my whole heart and not being able to see them, especially since I’m graduating soon, was really hard. Anytime I can get is already precious. Normally I’d see them once every couple weeks, so being away from them and my whole family for six months was pretty hard some days.

How did it affect your quarantine experience?

It made quarantining even harder for me because you hear all these stories about how quarantine was a good time for people to get closer with their families and spend time with them, but we were stuck in the house unable to go be with family. Everyone has all these cool stories about family game nights — it just me and my mom. I love my mom dearly, but it was lonely having my little sisters and my dad all over there. 

Were there any instances that meant a lot to you during this experience? 

I did get to see her for my 17th birthday in the middle of April during quarantine. All of them, like my dad and stepmom and little sisters, drove down to my house. They stayed far away to avoid getting sick or anything. As they were about to leave and we were saying our goodbyes, Livia started crying and saying, “I want to hug her so bad,” and it broke my heart. 

How did you manage with not being able to see her?

We would FaceTime like once a week, sometimes more if we had time. She would tell me about her week at school and everything she learned. She would play her clarinet for me because she’s in the sixth grade band. She would also text me on this little texting app and send me pictures of everything she’s doing. We were pretty connected, but it’s just not the same not being there.

How has being away from each other affected your relationship? 

It definitely brought us together and helped us communicate more. We couldn’t really text before. We would go two weeks without seeing each other and then just catch up when we got together. Now, she texts me all the time, updating me on the 11-year-old drama, and I keep up with her all the time.