JRA and COVID-19: My Perception of the Crisis


Ainsley Heidbreder, Reporter

     Back when I was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in early February, the coronavirus seemed like a very distant issue. There were only a few cases in the U.S., mostly in Washington State. Other than that, I knew it as the virus that was ravaging Wuhan, China. Obviously, this situation looks extremely different today. But the effect that COVID-19 has had on American society is not the only thing that has drastically evolved over the last two months; my attitude toward both the virus and my own condition has been altered as well. 

     Once my doctor told me which arthritis medications I would be starting, my first question was, “What do these meds do to my immune system?” His response: “Your immune system will be weakened. Significantly. You wouldn’t die from a cold, but you could end up with an extended hospital stay if you get the flu.” Great. That’s exactly what every healthy seventeen-year-old athlete wants to hear. But I was not about to take any chances, so I started being even more careful than I had been, which is tough to do because I’m a serious germaphobe as it is. I didn’t get so much as a sniffle. I’d say I was successful.

     March rolled around, and reports of more cases of coronavirus started flooding into the media. Initially, the cases were still several states away. Then it was confirmed in Illinois, and that’s when I started getting a little nervous. And then, less than a week into March, I get a text from my friend. “Hey, did you see there’s a case in Missouri?” 



“Dad, turn on the news now! There’s a case in Missouri and Parson is addressing the media!”

      And, well, we all know how the rest of that story played out.

     That’s when my panic started. With all the uncertainty surrounding the situation, I started contemplating staying home from school. I brought my own food and ate nothing provided by Burroughs. I started going straight home after school each day, canceling workouts and tennis lessons. I couldn’t focus anymore. All I could think about was my fear. 

Is it worth risking our lives just so you can go get a sandwich?”

— Ainsley Heidbreder

     Being immunocompromised at seventeen brings all kinds of challenges. I take the motherload of pills each day and get monthly injections just to keep me pain-free. None of my friends can relate. It’s a tough enough situation for me when life is normal, and right now it is far from that. Teenagers are plagued by the illusion of immunity to this virus just because we are young and healthy and strong. Because of this, we are taking risks: ignoring stay-at-home orders because we don’t think it will hurt anyone if we leave, hosting large parties because we miss our friends, etc. I’ve spent a lot of time wrestling with the notion that I don’t know if this makes me more afraid or angry. Sure, ninety-five percent of kids have normal immune systems and probably wouldn’t even show symptoms, but what about the other five percent? Is it worth risking our lives just so you can go get a sandwich? Stay home, if not for yourself then for the thousands of kids, mothers, fathers, and grandparents whom it could save.