Chrisser Reyes, 34. Illustration: Sam Hester

Chrisser Reyes: Tending to others and your own

I can’t afford to separate myself from my family.’

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To close out 2020, we're bringing you 20 stories from an extraordinary year. Doctors. Teachers. Entrepreneurs. Activists. These are the stories of ordinary Albertans who were changed by circumstances beyond their control—and what they did to make their worlds, and ours, a little better.



This year started out with a dream come true for Chrisser Reyes and his wife Jen Fouts-Reyes: she became pregnant with their second child.

The two nurses prayed for a low-risk pregnancy. Their toddler Janae had spent the first seven weeks of her life in the neonatal intensive care unit after a premature arrival. They feared the same thing would happen again.

Then COVID-19 raised the stakes. In March, Reyes, 34, was working in emergency when he heard about a suspected case of COVID-19 in the city.

Over the next weeks, Reyes, whose job status was casual, lost most of his shifts while emergency rooms sat eerily quiet. Fouts-Reyes kept working her full-time job. “It was all mind-boggling. What should she do? What could I do?,” he said.

It was all mind-boggling. What should she do? What could I do?

Chrisser Reyes

They tracked every bit of information about pregnancy and COVID-19, especially among health care workers. But there wasn’t enough. “It was unknown—that bothered us,” he said. “But we were like, [our jobs] are a calling. This is what we do.”

They kept going—working, wondering and counting down the weeks.

By summer, Reyes returned to work as hospitals filled up again. In July, in her 28th week, Fouts-Reyes called her husband from work to say she had cramping and spotting. “We were scared because that was too early,” he said. “This would be a really, really small baby.”

The next two months were agonizing, with repeat trips to Rockyview and Foothills hospitals. On Thanksgiving Monday, their healthy daughter Jillin was born. But Reyes’s high level of stress remains.

Now working full-time, he worries about his exposure risk and what he might bring home to his wife, his kids, and his parents.

He was exposed to a COVID-positive patient at work in the first month of Jillin’s life. A week later, he developed a runny nose. His test results were negative but he wonders what he will do if he gets COVID-19.

I shouldn’t be angry. I try to respect each person’s perspective of this pandemic.

Chrisser Reyes

“I can't afford to separate myself from my family,” he said.

He’s had patients tell him that the pandemic is a hoax and there’s no need to isolate. He deals with them by focusing on compassion.

“I try to understand that there are people who don’t believe and don't take this seriously,” he said. “And I shouldn't be angry. I try to respect each person’s perspective of this pandemic.”

His hopes for 2021 are two-fold. First, he hopes the government will prioritize people over industry. And second, he hopes Albertans will show more compassion to each other.

Christina Frangou is a Calgary journalist who covers health and social issues. Her reporting has garnered multiple national awards and nominations, including a National Newspaper Award in long feature writing for a story about her experience as a young widow.

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