In 2011, Kathleen Valente’s husband Bob was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease that results in scarring of the lungs for no known cause.
“He would have a hard time walking around, climbing stairs,” she said. “He was coughing a lot, which sounded like a really dry cough.”
In July 2014, Bob received a double lung transplant. His recovery was challenging — he had to be put on a ventilator due to complications from the surgery and needed several weeks of rehabilitation to be able to speak and walk again.
Kathleen said that when Bob finally came home from the hospital, they had to take extra precautions to protect him from getting sick. The two even attended handwashing classes.
“They made us wash our hands with them and show us how to do it correctly,” she said.
Kathleen said that with time, their family and friends adapted to the new normal.
“When all the kids in the neighborhood come over, they know: ‘When you come in the Valente house, you have to wash your hands or sanitize.’”
COVID-19 could kill him
Kathleen said that the coronavirus pandemic has heightened her family’s anxiety about Bob’s condition.
“Social distancing is so important for our family right now because if Bob contracts COVID-19, it could be deadly for him with his underlying health condition, with [his] history of lung disease,” she said. “If he catches it, he could die.”
Kathleen is especially worried because last August, Bob experienced complications with his lung transplant and is currently on the list for a second, single lung transplant. He’s been in and out of the hospital the past few months. The last time he was admitted, the state of Illinois switched to the policy of not allowing any visitors.
“And it just caused my heart to sink and caused a lot of anxiety for him and myself,” she said. “To drop someone off at the hospital and say, ‘Bye, good luck,’ it’s really hard to do.”
My family is getting me through this
These days, Kathleen said she doesn’t sleep in the same bed as Bob at night because she’s worried about potentially infecting him from something she caught at work or the grocery store. And she always wears a mask when interacting with him.
“I’m so paranoid, he thinks I’m being a little bit overboard,” she said. “I don’t think he’s as worried about receiving COVID19, as I am. I’m more worried about him receiving COVID19 than I am about the second transplant.”
She said the entire family has had to work really hard at social distancing for Bob’s sake.
“I have 3 teenage kids and it’s been harder for them to get used to the idea of social distancing,” she said. “They’re doing pretty great I think.”
Kathleen said social distancing has been especially hard on Bob since he’s a very social person and enjoys going on outings with friends and family.
“Bob has had to give up Monday night dinners with friends, having clients in his office, being in close contact with people,” she said. “So that’s really hard for him but he knows it’s really important for his health and safety.”
Kathleen said she’s getting through this difficult time by turning to friends and family for support.
“And Bob is great, he’s a great source of strength for me,” she said.
Lynnea Domienik is an intern for Curious City. Katherine Nagasawa is WBEZ's audience engagement producer. You can follow her on Twitter at @Kat_Nagasawa.