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Family escapes SARS epidemic

SUMMIT COUNTY – When 6-year-old Jake Schulman hears news reports about SARS, he turns to his mom and asks, “Does daddy have SARS? Is daddy one of the ones who died?”

Jake worries about his dad because he’s still living and working in Shanghai. The rest of the Schulman family – Jake, his 3-year-old sister, Stephanie, and his mother, Susan Schulman – fled from their home in Shanghai to avoid the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak. The virus, thought to be a type of cold virus, spreads through contact with respiratory secretions or body fluids and has infected more than 6,050 people worldwide and killed more than 415, according to the World Health Organization.

The Schulmans have lived in Shanghai for almost nine years. Susan Schulman works for the American Chamber of Commerce, and her husband works for AIG Real Estate, a company that manages the Shanghai Center.



The family knew about SARS long before their Chinese neighbors did. When Susan Schulman asked her Chinese babysitter not to come to the house anymore because she was in and out of a hospital visiting her husband, the woman laughed off any notions of a rampantly spreading disease.

After March 25, Susan Schulman stopped taking her kids to public places such as grocery stores, and she used the stairs instead of an enclosed elevator when she left her 15th-floor apartment to take her kids to the complex’s park. March 21 was the last time the kids attended their international school, because many of their classmates returned to school after traveling to Hong Kong and China during spring break, and Susan Schulman didn’t want to expose her kids to SARS.



“I’m not usually a real reactionary type of person,” she said. “I’m pretty easygoing, but it just seems like it was breaking out at such a rapid rate, and no one knew anything.”

She decided to temporarily relocate to Summit County to protect her kids from SARS after her daughter had a bad asthma attack and needed a doctor.

“I couldn’t get an appointment because the American clinic was so packed,” she said. “We had to just walk in. It was extremely stressful. Everyone had a mask on. We were waiting in the doctor’s office for 45 minutes, and it was difficult to keep Stephanie’s mask on because she kept taking it off. I was shaking. My blood pressure was sky-high.”

Four days later, on April 7, Susan Schulman and her two kids boarded a plane to Denver, wearing gloves and masks and using antibacterial wipes to sanitize their seats. She tried to keep the masks on her kids during the nearly 11-hour flight, and she helped protect them from a man who was coughing and sneezing on the airplane by covering their heads with a fleece blanket and playing “tent.”

“Only 10 percent of the people in the airport had masks on – now it’s different,” she said. “None of the stewardesses thought it was a big deal. They were almost laughing at me. It just seemed a little bit maybe negligent. They had been out running around and going to restaurants in Shanghai. Now my husband says the restaurants are almost empty. Shanghai is like a ghost town.”

Susan came to Summit County because she grew up in Englewood, and her parents have a house up here. She planned on returning to Shanghai on May 6, but she has decided to stay through the summer to protect her kids. Her husband will continue to work for AIG Real Estate in Shanghai.

In the meantime, Susan Schulman is home-schooling her kids. They take trips to the museum in Frisco to learn about history, the Dillon Reservoir to learn about droughts and the library to hear storytellers.

And the other day, she found her kids playing “SARS.” One was the patient, one was the doctor, and they practiced taking each other’s temperature.

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at knicoletti@summitdaily.com.


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