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For People With Compromised Immune Systems, COVID-19 Is Serious


This is a dangerous moment for Americans with chronic health conditions. The CDC is recommending that those at high risk stay home to reduce the risk of being exposed to the coronavirus. Michael Norton is one of those Americans. He's 32 years old, and he was born with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. That means he has to have a ventilator with him at all times to give him oxygen. To stay safe, he and his mother Suzan, who is Michael's primary caregiver, are self-quarantining. We reached them by phone at their home in Standish, Maine. And we started by talking about what life is normally like.

SUZAN NORTON: We are very active. Michael worked on a film with somebody, so we've been going to film screenings and doing Q&A's at the end of the film. Michael's an artist. He's always making - he's working on a million projects. He also is a beer enthusiast. So we go to a lot of breweries.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

S NORTON: And we got to a lot of art exhibits. Whenever there's exhibits going on, we travel to go to some exhibits. And another thing that we do is we go to a lot of heavy metal concerts. So we're very active.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Do you mind passing the phone to Michael?

S NORTON: Sure, I will do that right now. Michael, this is Rachel.


MARTIN: Hey, Michael. Thanks for talking with us today.

M NORTON: No problem.

MARTIN: How's it going?

M NORTON: It's a little scary at times. But I have lots of projects to work on, so I'm getting through it.

MARTIN: Yeah. So what have you heard, Michael, from your doctor about the risks that you face from the coronavirus?

M NORTON: My doctor says that it was probably best that I stay inside for a while just because he said if I got the illness, it probably wouldn't be good for me because my lungs are already compromised as it is.

MARTIN: From your doctor's guidance, how long have you been self-quarantined?

M NORTON: About six days.

MARTIN: And how are you taking care of your mental health? It's hard for everyone to just change up your day enough, to keep your imagination going, to keep - to stay positive.

M NORTON: Yes, I have a strong mental attitude. And I've been keeping myself busy, so I'm not - I don't really get down very much. I've been keeping a journal also about this corona stuff, being inside. And I've been watching a lot of James Bond movies.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Michael, I'm going to come back to you in a couple minutes, but do you mind passing the phone back to your mom?

M NORTON: All right, here's my mother.

S NORTON: Hi (laughter).

MARTIN: Hey, Suzan. So what have you heard from Michael's doctors about the risks to him right now?

S NORTON: The doctors said that if Michael contracted that illness, that he probably wouldn't survive. And the doctor was telling us that it would be best just to lay low for a while until the medical community can get a grip on what's going on.

MARTIN: What do you think, Suzan, when you see these photos that have been circulating online of crowded beaches, people still going to concerts or clubs or crowding in restaurants, in defiance of...

S NORTON: I don't know. I don't think - when I first heard about it, I didn't really know what to think of it. And then my husband was starting to get really concerned. And he's the first one that said we have to really be careful with Mike. And I kind of thought he was a little bit overreacting, but we talked to the doctor and he was confirming everything my husband was saying. But I don't think people really are taking it too serious. I think they're being a little too carefree. I mean, there's ways we can do things; we just have to do them definitely for a while.

MARTIN: Yeah. If you don't mind, Suzan, can you pass the phone to Michael?

S NORTON: Surely. Surely. Here you go.

M NORTON: I'm here.

MARTIN: So what's on tap for today?

M NORTON: Probably going to work on my book a little bit and do some video editing and, of course, watch some more James Bond movies.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Well, thank you so much, Michael, for taking the time to talk with us, and thank your mom for us, too, Suzan. And we're thinking of you and sending good thoughts as we all figure out ways to navigate this situation. Thank you so much to both of you.

M NORTON: Thank you, too, and stay safe.

MARTIN: Stay safe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.