Alumni Adjusting to Living on the Edge

OCEAN VIEW, N.J. -- In 1993 rock n' roll icons Aerosmith released the hit single "Livin' on the Edge" -- a song about civilization beginning to crumble. While Steven Tyler probably didn't envision a worldwide pandemic when penning the poetic refrain, living on the edge has taken on a whole new meaning for those, literally on the edge of the nation's pandemic hot spot.

Wayland Baptist University alums Doug and Meg Shelton, of Ocean View, N.J., are getting a first-hand look at life on the edge of the COVID-19 battlefront. They live in a rural area about 140 miles south of New York City, where day-to-day life usually consists of a lot of activity. But that has changed.

"We are in a very active area. It got really quiet, really fast. You don't see people moving around much," Doug said. "It's kind of surreal."

Shelton and his wife graduated from Wayland in 2005. Doug studied religion and art while Meg majored in education. Shelton now works as the Director of Creative for Rutgers University, Camden, where his graphic design skills are put to the test in recruiting students for the extension campus of Rutgers University. Meg currently stays at home with their three children, Ryan, age 10, Avery, 7, and Gavin who is 3.

While Doug has adjusted to working from home and Meg is now putting her degree to work as the home school teacher for the children, their life has been significantly disrupted by the threat of the virus. The couple moved from Florida to New Jersey in 2018, shortly after the birth of Gavin, to be closer to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Gavin suffers from a rare digestive disorder called FPIES, Food Protein Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome, a condition that causes severe reactions to certain foods. The Children's Hospital was one place where Gavin can get the specialized care he needs.

The youngest Shelton is on a strict diet that already makes shopping for food difficult, but with the panic buying that spread throughout the country, those with special diets are left hoping they can find the food they need. This has proved difficult for the Sheltons.

"Because of Gavin's condition, he eats a lot of fresh foods. That has been a challenge," Shelton said. "Our main concern, because he is on such a strict diet, is finding the stuff that is safe for him."

Shelton said Gavin must stay away from processed foods. They have found a butcher, roughly an hour from their home, that deals only in grass-fed beef and chickens that are raised on Amish farms. These meats, from animals not raised on chemicals, provide a more controlled eating experience for Gavin.

"That butcher knows where all of his meat comes from. That is the only place we have found with that type of quality control," Shelton said.

Fortunately, Shelton said they generally buy food in bulk, so they had some stockpiled when the stay at home order was issued for New Jersey. Now, however, their pile is running low and he and Meg are hoping they can get the food they need.

If they find a new food they think is safe for Gavin, Shelton said they have to test it for a week or more to ensure it is compatible with his digestive system. Some reactions to food can be extreme and currently, the hospital is that last place anyone wants to go.

Despite his health condition, Gavin is still a 3-year-old and Shelton said that can make working at home or completing home school for the older children a little difficult at times. To adapt, the older kids save some of their more difficult school work for the afternoon, Gavin's nap time. And although Shelton doesn't have a dedicated home office, he will close himself in the bedroom if he needs to be on a conference call or when focusing on a project. Shelton said the key is good communication between himself and Meg as they make schedules work.

"We have to work around and be cognizant of what's going on," he said.

LIke so many in this situation, Shelton knows the "new normal" could be in place for a significant length of time. He said his work is considered non-essential, so he knows he will be working from home until the governor lifts the mandate. And while technically his children's schools have been shut down until Easter … Shelton knows that date will probably be moved.

So for now, Shelton will make the most of working at home and continue to focus on recruiting students to Rutgers, banking on a quick return to normal. All the while knowing that life on the edge goes on.