Vaccine brings new hope to Calgary woman living with cystic fibrosis

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A Calgary woman living with a serious lung condition said getting her first vaccine dose was like being released from prison, though she knows she’s not yet fully protected.

Nicki Perkins has already overcome the odds with cystic fibrosis by living to age 48 without a lung transplant.

“When I went to get the vaccine on Saturday, it felt like I was out of jail and I’m looking around the world going, ‘This is what the rest of the world does? This is so weird,’ ” she said.

While she was already cautious about going out in public before the pandemic, COVID-19 has mostly confined her to her home for more than a year.

“I’m not living in fear — I’m just living smart,” she said. “A cold can put me in the hospital.”

Perkins spoke with Postmedia from her RV at a campsite southeast of Calgary. Camping has been her only real reprieve in the past year, allowing her to get out while remaining isolated.

She said in many ways, she and other people with CF were better prepared for the pandemic than most because they already practiced the habits everyone else has been asked to adopt, such as masking and social distancing.


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“We know droplets hang in the air for up to eight hours,” she said. “We were definitely the best of the lot to manage the situation, but not for 56 weeks.”

Her 56-and-counting weeks at home have not been easy. She has had visits from her parents, who are her only two contacts. Other than camping, she hasn’t been able to leave the house except for walks with her dog, Miss California.

“I have not been in a mall, a restaurant or a store in 56 weeks,” she said.

Nicki Perkins gets her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in Calgary on April 3, 2021. Submitted
Nicki Perkins gets her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in Calgary on April 3, 2021. Submitted Photo by Submitted

Early in the pandemic, Perkins’ brother was bringing her groceries, but she said online shopping apps such as Shopify have been a godsend for her.

Her fitness routine was also thrown off kilter. She credits exercise for keeping her from requiring a lung transplant for such a long time. Although her name is on the transplant list, she is currently on hold, meaning she won’t be considered for a transplant unless she loses further lung capacity.

Through the pandemic she kept up a rowing and crossfit routine in her basement gym. Fitness is more than just a routine for Perkins. She is the owner of Chinook CrossFit.

While she couldn’t go to the gym herself, she does believe it would’ve been possible to keep small boutique gyms such as hers open safely.

“It’s the easiest thing to manage,” she said, noting her members stayed in their own 10-foot-square spaces and did not share equipment.

“So for us to have to shut down is stupid. You walk by a (restaurant) and the patio is full, the inside is full. The shopping malls are crowded.”


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She said her gym remained open for about five months during the pandemic. She was able to stay afloat with government subsidies and generous support from her members.

The pandemic also put a pause on fundraisers Perkins usually spearheads for the CF community. As a board member for the Summit Foundation for Cystic Fibrosis, Perkins has helped organize the foundation’s annual gala and golf tournament. It was, of course, put on hold in 2020 and will not happen again this year.

Money they raise has helped to fund Perkins’ namesake lab at the University of Calgary’s Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases.

Nathan Peters, co-director of the Snyder Institute, said the Nicole Perkins Microbial Communities Core Labs play a role in just about any research done there.

The lab is analyzing samples from COVID patients in Alberta.

“We’re trying to understand what’s going on with these patients in terms of their immune response,” he said.

“Are they making balanced immune response? Is their immune response too overboard? Are there certain cell types that are spiking in these patients that may be causing more harm than good?”

He said the state-of-the-art equipment at the lab has helped further the research.

“Nicki is dynamic and a real advocate for the kind of work we do at the Snyder Institute,” said Peters. “We we really appreciate everything she’s done.”

Perkins said that being isolated has been challenging, because she feels like she’s not contributing in the way she normally does, through fundraising.

“That’s been my toughest struggle this past year,” she said. “I feel like I’m not doing any good for the world. My whole life I’ve been fundraising or going to university or working. This whole year has been nothing.”

At the same time, she is counting her blessings.

“I’m grateful I’m not sick. I don’t have to go to the hospital right now.”

Twitter: @brodie_thomas


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