I am a young adult woman born and raised in Salt Lake City. I attend the University of Utah and am majoring in photojournalism. I am a sister, a daughter, a friend. My intersectional identity has always been pretty basic, but what can I say? I’m a white woman from Utah. There’s nothing special about me; I don’t stand out in most crowds. I’m not saying that in a pitiful way, but rather as a matter of fact. I have never experienced a struggle due to a part of my identity. Unlike millions of other individuals around me, I’ve never experienced racism or discrimination for the way I look. And while this is and will continue to be true for the rest of my life, this past year resurfaced a part of my identity I thought I had grown out of years ago.
When I was 11 years old, I died in a hospital bed in the early summer morning of June. It was quick and unexpected.
Six days prior, I walked into the emergency room hand in hand with my dad. Four months from that day, I rolled out of the hospital doors in a wheelchair, a paper-thin body covered in eight new deep-tissue scars, with one new heart pumping the blood inside my small chest. For at least six years after that, I fought to shake the new identity that had been shoved down my throat. The girl with the heart transplant.
My school was small. Really small. The kind of small that you knew everyone down to their grandma and their grandma’s dog. I wanted to return to the person I was. I wanted to go back to before. Before the floor was slept out from under my feet and before my story was broadcasted around Salt Lake City via a blog my parents made.
But the truth was, I would never be that girl again. And I knew it; I just didn’t want to accept it at first. Slowly, I rebuilt my public identity into a young, smart, strong, creative, interesting young woman. Not the small girl with the transplant.
Most people don’t know about the lifestyle change that must happen post-transplant. In the months and years following one’s transplant, they are placed on strict house arrest and are very slowly re-introduced back into their social life. Fresh transplant patients are dosed on high levels of steroids and immunosuppressant drugs, making the patient extremely vulnerable to even just the common cold. While steroids and blood thinners are weaned, and eventually struck, from one’s medical chart, a transplant patient will take immunosuppressant anti-rejection medication twice daily for the rest of their lives.
In reflection of this year and the arrival of the virus that caused COVID-19, any transplant patient is considered at high risk of infection with fatal outcomes. This reality means I am at high risk. For the first time in years, a part of my identity had resurfaced that I had once worked so hard to outshine. Now, my health safety must take a priority over social interactions once more.
With my experience as an immunocompromised individual, I feel confident stating that this community of people is underrepresented. I wanted to write this story to spread awareness around this community of people and what our lives look like now. Most people don’t understand due to a lack of awareness and education. I hope that this story brings more awareness around the adversities most immunocompromised people face today as the coronavirus threatens our lives.
I know a handful of people my age that are immunocompromised, so I figured the best way to collect sources was through a call to action on my Instagram account. I asked for the participation of immunocompromised people between ages 18-25 for an interview covering their experiences as immunocompromised young adults during COVID-19. All of the sources who participated were incredibly insightful and well-spoken on their experiences throughout the pandemic. I made sure the call to action I posted was available to everyone on my following list, so no biases existed before the interview.
Writing the story, I had to be sure that I wasn’t writing a biased story from my perspective as an immunocompromised individual. I took the same restraint while conducting my interviews and with my sources as well. Since I have my own opinions and frustrations, I had to ensure that my frustrations weren’t being communicated via my sources and that what my sources were saying was genuine.
MiaBella Brickey was born and raised in the Sugarhouse area of Salt Lake City. She is currently attending the University of Utah for her bachelor’s degree in photojournalism. Besides styling and directing photo-shoots, MiaBella enjoys spending her time dancing to loud music, road tripping to the nearest campsite, walking her dog around her neighborhood, and hanging out with friends and family. She is passionate about her creativity and is always looking for the next project to work on. Her goal in life is to live as presently as possible, protect and defend the rights of all human beings and animals, and to create a positive impact on all who come into her life.