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Wearing masks no new experience for parents of child with Cystic Fibrosis

Wearing masks and practicing the six-foot rule is not a new thing for Shane and Sarah Van Allen who have learned from raising a child with Cystic Fibrosis that these precautions can protect people. (Colin Burrowes Photo)

As parents of a son with Cystic Fibrosis (CF), wearing a mask and following the six-foot rule of distancing are not new concepts for Shane and Sarah Van Allen.

With the platform social media offers everyone, Shane said they have been seeing a lot of opinions being shared concerning wearing masks.

“I’m not a scientist and I’m not a doctor, but if somebody with an education much beyond mine suggests I wear a mask because it might help somebody, whether it be me or somebody else, of course, I’m going to wear the damn mask,” he said. “If, in five years from now if we discover wearing a mask didn’t do anything to help other people, so what?”

Sarah related the formal instructions from Huron Perth Public Health to wear masks, which came into effect on July 17, to their experiences dealing with CF.

It has been discovered that two people with CF can’t be very close to each other because they can transfer bacteria from their lungs to one another, so there has been a six-foot rule in the CF community for many years to stop people from accidentally harming each other with a cough or a sneeze.

There used to be CF camps which allowed children with CF to spend time together but they had to be cancelled.

“This was probably 20 to 30 years ago because CFers had died,” said Sarah. “Now in the CF world, there is infectious disease control all the time.”

It’s something their son Wade has always had to live with. When he goes to his checkups he always has to wear a mask and they also wear masks to support Wade.

“The way I look at it is I’m being a role model for my son,” said Sarah. “There is no risk for me when he’s in the hospital for his checkup but why wouldn’t I wear a mask because it’s showing my son that I’m supporting him.”

There is proof in the CF community wearing masks and obeying a six-foot rule does help protect people, so she wonders why there are some people who aren’t willing to try to use the same protections with COVID-19.

“If medical science has proven it saves lives in the CF world,” said Shane. “It’s that simple. People did die because they thought CF kids needed an outlet, something in common so they had this camp for them to play but it backfired.”

That proof is a convincing enough reason for Shane and Sarah to wear masks.

“People taking it so personally right now blows my mind,” said Shane. “I don’t understand why people feel the government is personally picking on them and forcing them to do something. So, they are going to be a rebel by not wearing a mask? Just be kind and do the right thing.”

“None of us likes to be told what to do, that’s just human nature, but for now I can wear a mask. I can do it for me, I can do it for my son and I can do it for a person I don’t know.”

– Shane Van Allen

Sarah said she wasn’t sure what the risk was for people with pre-existing health conditions to attempt to wear a mask.

“Is it riskier for people with an underlying condition to panic in that mask or is the risk of getting COVID bigger?” she questioned. “I relate it to CF. The studies are there. It’s no harm in wearing one.”

Shane said he realizes many people don’t like being told what to do and that is a major reason they don’t want to wear a face covering.

“None of us likes to be told what to do,” he said. “That’s just human nature, but for now I can wear a mask. I can do it for me, I can do it for my son and I can do it for a person I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s going to work but I’d rather do it not knowing whether it’s going to work than not do it and have something happen.”

Both Sarah and Shane think the more people start wearing masks, the less socially awkward it will be for everybody else.

“That’s why I wear it to Wade’s checkups with him,” said Sarah. “We go into the hospital and it’s only CFers who have to wear these masks. I wear it and it makes him feel more comfortable.”

When they are walking down the hallway of a hospital for a checkup, Shane said it’s easy to tell who the CFers are.

“That’s no fun for them being singled out because they are the ones wearing a mask,” he said.

“They are the ones who feel like what I’m breathing can’t be emitted into the air because I’m going to hurt somebody, so let’s all be the same. Let’s all wear a mask.”

What Sarah said she wants to ask people who don’t want to wear a mask is, if this was reversed and children were at more risk from COVID-19, instead of the ageing population, would they not want to wear a mask to protect their child?

“I don’t know why it’s a fight with our government – it’s the authority I guess that they don’t like,” said Shane. “This isn’t a big conspiracy. It’s just an effort to help your neighbour, to help yourself.”

Bike helmets and seatbelts are other things which the Van Allens noted have been implemented for public safety, which received backlash from the public.

“Nowadays you see everybody wearing their seatbelts and you recognize when people don’t,” said Shane. “So, maybe in time we can all just adapt and it can be a comfortable thing to see somebody wearing a face mask and not be scared or intimidated.”

Shane said he likes to be encouraged by the precautions people are taking and looks at them as a way society is evolving.

“We’re not being paranoid, we’re learning,” he said

Sarah said she had listened to a podcast on the subject where a doctor compared the masks to the use of condoms.

“Sexually transmitted diseases follow the same protocol as COVID,” she said. “You find out if you’ve been diagnosed and then you’ve got to contact who you were in contact with. It’s the same concept. Put a condom on, stops it. Maybe people need to hear it that way to relate to it. I thought that was a smart way to relate it.”

If CF wasn’t a part of their lives, Sarah is sure they would still wear masks, but she admits they would probably have a tougher time understanding why they had to.

“It’s just easy for me to throw on a mask,” she said. “I have done it since the start of COVID. It was a no-brainer. Our whole family did it. CF is very relatable to COVID.”

As far as the Public Health reminders for people to practice good hygiene and wash their hands often, this is something which was always part of the Van Allen routine.

“Things like colds are harder on Wade so we just always wash our hands,” said Sarah. “That protects from a common cold or flu.”

“The message right now is to wear it to prevent COVID but if it means I’m not going to bring home a common cold to my son I’ll wear the mask,” added Shane. “I know to some people it’s just a cold. Well to Wade, as a CFer, it’s not just a cold, so if that mask is going to prevent that, by all means, we’ll do it. COVID is just an extreme.”

Colin Burrowes is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Listowel Banner. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.