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Coronavirus through the eyes of an immuno compromised citizen

Zola Brunner was diagnosed with lupus in April 2018.
Zola Brunner was diagnosed with lupus in April 2018.
Image: Supplied/Zola Brunner

Zola Brunner's movement has been limited since she was diagnosed with lupus in April 2018. Since then, she has had endless trips to the hospital and was forced to adjust her career so she is able to work from home.

She told TimesLIVE that when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the lockdown two weeks ago, she and many other lupus survivors thought, “welcome to our world”.

For two years, Brunner's awareness about her surroundings and her health has been heightened. She's been avoiding staying in crowds for long periods, touching surfaces that may expose her to germs, constantly washing and sanitising her hands because of her compromised immune system.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, she has doubled down on these practices and stayed indoors, unless she needs to make her weekly trip to the hospital where she has a lupus care team supporting her during this time.

The care team consists of two nephrologists [kidney specialists], a rheumatologist [autoimmune disease specialist], a general physician and a neurologist [brain and nerve specialist]. 

For the first time I feel like my fellow citizens, neighbours and friends are finally on the same page because they truly understand what it means to prioritise our health.”

Like many, the rapid spread of the coronavirus in SA surprised her, and she's been taking extra-care of her health since.

Brunner says her awareness about coronavirus is on the same level as anyone else's and doesn't fear any more than the next person.

Instead she trusts that the measures taken by government will keep her and others safe from the virus.

“I was extremely happy that the government had taken such measures and I understood that it was necessary, because I have been living this way for so long due to my chronic illness, to save my life.”

Lupus is a rare disorder of the system which causes it to attack healthy tissue. It affects different parts of the body including the joints, skin and internal organs such as the kidneys and the heart, according to lupus.org.

Living with this rare, chronic illness means Brunner's immune system is compromised. If she were to contract coronavirus, she would be affected more severely.

“The Lupus immune system is a little bit different from other immune systems in that we have a dysfunctional immune system with a decreased ability to fight viral and bacterial infections.

“We are in the same ​high-risk Covid-19​ ​category as the elderly and those with other illnesses such as cancer. So the best way to keep from contracting Covid-19 is to stay at home. Since we received our first confirmed case in SA, I have stayed at home.

Brunner engages with over 5,000 lupus warriors on Instagram, a page she created to help her and many others cope.

She was informed by some American and South African citizens that they were experiencing a shortage of ​hydroxychloroquine known as Plaquenil, a drug used by lupus patients and prevents the virus from attacking the body's healthy tissue and slows its ability to reproduce itself as quickly.

This after US president Donald Trump said during one of his pressers, the drug could cure coronavirus. The Guardian reported that his claims were disputed by medical experts. He also took to Twitter to repeat his claims, causing much panic.

Trump touted the drug following claims by a French expert who said two of his studies had shown that it can cure coronavirus. France 24 and Connexion France have reported on this.

The global community is panicking amid the coronavirus outbreak and everyone is learning as they go, but Brunner says stressing is not the answer.

When her life took a different turn after her diagnosis, she gave herself permission to go through the motions. She encourages South Africans to do the same by making the 21-day lockdown worthwhile by setting short-term goals.

“Build. Use this time to make the 21-day lockdown worthwhile. This can be achieved by doing something that you have always wanted to do but did not have time. Set up a goal about what you want to achieve for the next 21 days. Trust me, I am always goal setting and it distracts me from my reality and I feel a sense of achievement.”