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Indianapolis boy living with cystic fibrosis, family share life during COVID-19

"It’s scary to think of what could happen"
Posted at 6:46 PM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 19:39:40-05

INDIANAPOLIS -- Six feet distance. It is a term part of the “new normal” during the pandemic, but for one Indianapolis boy and his family this is part of their day-to-day reality.

“He is susceptible to anything around him, and I’d hate to think what COVID would do,” Christine Wolfe-Tingey said about her son, Zarrien.

Zarrien lives with cystic fibrosis. It is a rare, genetic and chronic disease that impacts the lungs, digestive system and other organs.

“SARS actually it has been a lot less severe in our people with CF and it’s been a lot less frequent. We haven’t seen the infectivity that we did with H1N1 and even influenza and there are probably both social reasons and biologic reasons,” Dr. James Chmiel, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Pulmonology, Allergy and Sleep Medicine at Riley Children’s Hospital, said.

Chmiel is Zarrien’s pulmonologist. He said the small and tight-knit CF community continues to teach us all the importance of infection control.

“So that’s probably why we didn’t see the number of infections in CF as we suspected,” Chmiel said. He cares for 40-50 pediatric patients with CF.

“To my knowledge, we have not had a single patient with CF admitted with Influenza A or with RSV, which is very rare…the rhinovirus, which is the virus that causes the common cold, that we are still seeing, but at a much less degree because I believe the families have put in measures that prevent their children from getting exposed,” Chmiel said.

Christine added before the pandemic, her 8-year-old son stayed in the hospital for what they call “a tune up” two weeks at a time at least two times a year. During lockdown, he has not been admitted. Also during this time, she said Zarrien has only needed one antibiotic treatment whereas he normally needs at least eight a year.

Still to keep Zarrien safe, the Tingey family rarely leaves their Indianapolis home during the pandemic. All three boys share an office space for virtual school.

The family also attends church via Zoom and enjoys socially distant camping.

“When in quarantine all the time, for like a year now, you don’t forget what’s going in the world, but it becomes less prominent,” Christine said.

The mom of eight does not deny it has been difficult to stay isolated, especially when it comes to mental health. However, she believes her family will quarantine for “at least another year.” She said she is thankful her family has not gotten sick.

As the pandemic continues, the Tingey family has this message for fellow Hoosiers:

“Just out of consideration for people who aren’t as strong and healthy as you are, please just keep it up until this thing is gone,” Christine said. Her husband, James added: “It’s a slight inconvenience for what it could be in the long-term.”