Tracey Messerly

Tracey Messerly. Courtesy of the Messerly Family.

Many of us are getting accustomed to the ‘new normal’ as we await the emergence of a successful COVID-19 vaccine. But what happens for those who cannot afford to leave their homes?

Plano resident Tracey Messerly knows this struggle intimately. She’s hardly left her house since Jan. 24. 

Messerly suffers from polycystic kidney disorder (PKD), an inherited disorder in which clusters of cysts grow inside the kidneys, causing the organs to enlarge and damaging local tissue. 

The size of the cysts ranges. According to the PKD Foundation, a small cyst could be the size of a pinhead, while a large one could be the size of a grapefruit.

Without these cysts, a healthy human kidney generally weighs about a third of a pound, according to the PKD Foundation. When Messerly had hers removed nine years ago, they weighed eight pounds collectively. 

Since PKD is an inherited disorder, lifestyle does not change outcomes and the disease cannot be prevented, according to the American Kidney Fund. Messerly said that many of her family members suffer from PKD because it comes from a dominant gene: four of the six children that her paternal grandparents have had PKD and died of conditions related to the disease. She also said that of the three children her parents had, two of them have PKD.

“It’s not an uncommon disease. It wipes out half families - that’s a big deal,” Messerly said.

Because of her kidney transplants, Messerly takes immunosuppressants, which may make her more likely to have serious complications from the virus.

On top of this concern, Messerly’s body tried to reject the kidney transplant, which caused other health issues on top of the ones that her PKD had already caused. For one, Messerly said her bone marrow doesn’t produce enough red blood cells. More recently, her lungs fill up with fluid and she has a hard time breathing — a terrifying condition to deal with in the time of COVID-19. 

Messerly said due to issues with her immune system, she’s been wearing a mask since before the pandemic began to ravage the U.S. in March.

“I was being careful, and I was wearing a mask before the pandemic because of the flu,” she said.

Like other immunocompromised people around the world, Messerly stayed home even before and after federal government lockdown mandates. She said she misses seeing other people, but she’s worried for her safety and doesn’t even have much energy to go on walks outside because her low red blood cell count has her constantly exhausted.

“I used to be able to go to family gatherings. … Now I can’t even do that,” she said.

Although she doesn’t get to socialize in-person with others, she still goes to the doctor on occasion and talks to her 5-year-old niece daily. 

“Luckily, she can work FaceTime. … She’ll play with me on Roblox, or we play Barbie ...we probably spend an hour on the phone a day.”

Messerly said that if she doesn’t catch COVID-19, she could live another twenty years. She’s only 55. 

However, being immunocompromised makes her much higher risk than most people. She said she feels that recent conversation about immunocompromised people doesn’t talk about people like her in a dignified way.

“If I were to die because I got the coronavirus and someone said ‘oh she has a pre-existing condition’, it’s like saying I was worthless, and I didn’t matter. … Well a lot of people have pre-existing conditions and we’re important.”

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