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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma City’s special needs community is asking others to help protect their vulnerable population.

KFOR spoke with eight families about their experiences navigating COVID. Many of them say the pandemic is creating a dangerous situation for them, and they’re now pleading with the public to do their part and get vaccinated and wear a mask in public.

“It is literally life or death,” Special Care Executive Director Pam Newby said during a Tuesday press conference. “What I cant understand is how anyone can look into the eyes of these precious children and not want to help keep them safe.”

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Parents of children with special needs are asking community members to help protect children, who have low immune systems, from COVID-19 by wearing a face mask in public and getting vaccinated.

Some parents are concerned about the issues that COVID could cause for their children in the future.

John Beaver says he’s concerned that the rising COVID hospitalizations could affect their ability to get treatment for his son, Jack, who has cerebral palsy.

“At almost 19, Jack has multiple health issues, and so, at any point, he may be in the hospital for something totally unrelated to the pandemic,” Beaver said.

“If those guys have no beds because they’re full, if they have no staff because they’re exhausted, we have nowhere else to go.”

Many of these children struggle even with your standard viruses, such as RSV or the common cold, let alone COVID.

Candace Chisolm says she has seen it firsthand with her daughter, Narielle Ellerby-Chisolm. Narielle has CLOVES syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects multiple systems in the body.

“With her condition, her immune system can be weakened,” Chisolm said. “I wish I could say things like that are easy, but [a cold] does tend to last a little longer for her. It can cause effects for her that can make her hospitalized. And thinking of the effects that [COVID] has on a healthy young child, for her it could be devastating.”

One father of a Special Care student told KFOR he wears his mask to protect his son.

“Children who have genetic disorders are immunity compromised,” he said. “Even if I’m asymptomatic, I don’t wanna pass it onto him and put him into an ICU bed.”

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Special needs children are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

Tylicia Rollins says she also wears her mask to protect her son, Tremayne, who has Down syndrome. She’s among many parents who are asking the public to do their part to help protect this vulnerable population.

“It’s very important for us to get the message out to everyone how important it is,” she said. “[Our family] wear[s] a mask just to protect him and to protect everyone else,” she said.

Susan Oliver is a registered nurse, and her son, Aiden, is a part of Special Care’s after school program. She also emphasized the importance of masking up.

“Wearing a mask is an inconvenience, but when wearing a mask is saving the life of this child or other members of the community, it’s worth it,” she said.

Many families are encouraging others to get the vaccine as well. Lizzie Daniel expressed the importance to help protect her 11-year-old son, Chock, who is undiagnosed but has a suspected rare genetic syndrome.

“These are scary times for our family,” Daniel said. “Help us protect vulnerable kids like Chock, who hasn’t had the opportunity to become vaccinated yet and has a compromised immune system.”

Chock’s 12-year-old brother Josiah added his thoughts.

“If you’re not wearing your mask or if you’re not vaccinated, please do that,” he said. “It’s only two steps and it can save lives. It can save yours and it can save your family’s, and it could save mine and save my family’s.”

Lawsha Gratts, another member of the Special Care after school program, echoed the same point.

“You should get it,” she said. “It helps me not to get sick.”

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Jack Beaver

Brie Johnson has spinal muscular atrophy and is currently enrolled in Edmond Public Schools’ virtual learning program. She has been a part of the Special Care family since she was a little girl.

“The likelihood of me surviving COVID is incredibly low because of my incredibly low immune system,” she said.

She reminds people that the public plays a key role in keeping them safe.

“A lot of people say they use the argument my body, my choice for not wearing a mask, but not wearing a mask doesn’t only affect you, it affects everyone around you,” she said. “With those of us that have compromised immune systems, we have to be a lot more careful. But we can only be so careful and have to rely on what everybody else does to help protect us.”

She wants to encourage all Oklahomans to help in that effort.

“We cant do everything ourselves; we have to rely that people will choose the right thing to help keep us safe.”

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