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In honour of his daughter, Quebec man creates logo for immunocompromised people to wear on masks

With Quebec's masking mandate just weeks away from being scrapped in most public places, a group is raising awareness around a small "I" symbol that can be attached to a mask, which signals the person behind it is immunocompromised.

Attachment with letter 'I' lets people know to keep their distance, not make people feel isolated

Louis Sansfaçon's 31-year-old daughter Émilie died last year from cancer. But before her death, her vision was to create a mask to let others know someone is immunocompromised. (Chloë Ranaldi/CBC News)

After Louis Sansfaçon lost his 31-year-old daughter Émilie to cancer last year, he decided to realize her vision of making life easier for those who are immunocompromised. 

Before her death, Émilie had an idea to create a mask to let others know someone has a weakened immune system, which would let them know to keep their distance and not make these people feel isolated. 

Sansfaçon says his daughter got the idea while the pair were walking outside Hôtel Dieu hospital in Quebec City, where she had just received a round of chemotherapy. 

"We met a guy who was with no mask, so Émilie told me, 'well dad, nobody knows that I'm fighting for my life, I'm fighting for my health, so why don't we use the mask as a communication?'" he said.

Before her death, Émilie Sansfaçon thought of creating a mask to let others know someone has a weakened immune system, which would let them know to keep their distance and not make these people feel isolated. (Chloë Ranaldi/CBC News)

That's how he got the idea for the "immunoclip," a small plastic attachment with a red "I" on it designed to be hung on the side of a mask.

"If you understand the "I", which means this person is [immunocompromised], you have to react as a people, and then just step back, keep the distance," he said. 

With Quebec's masking mandate just weeks away from being scrapped in most public places, except for public transit, some advocates worry people with much weaker immune systems might feel scared and not want to look different than everyone else by wearing a mask. 

"Knowing that maybe they're going to be laughed at or ridiculed or ostracized, it's an extra stress for them, they don't need that," said Louis-Georges Girard, a spokesperson for Quebec's Association for Immunocompromised Patients (APIQ). 

Louis-Georges Girard of Quebec's Association for Immunocompromised Patients says he's worried some people will be ridiculed for continuing to wear a mask after restrictions are lifted. (Chloë Ranaldi/CBC News)

He says the decision to keep wearing masks isn't a question of looks or a political statement for immunocompromised people, "it's a question of staying healthy." 

"And someone telling you 'well, you don't need to wear the mask, it's all over' ⁠— they know, and what they know, too, is that they have to [continue wearing] the mask," said Girard, urging people to have "a little compassion" for these people and show "a little bit of solidarity."

'We have to spread the word'

Michel Pronovost, a microbiologist, has been immunocompromised for nearly six years. He says he jumped at the chance to order an immunoclip when he heard about it, adding that the logo makes him feel safer.

"What I hope is that the people will think that the "I" means that it's important to protect me, to stay away, to respect me because I'm at risk, so I think it's a good idea," he said. 

He adds it's also a way to inform people why he's wearing a mask. "It's not because I'm controlled by big pharma," he laughed.

Pronovost has been sporting the clip for a few weeks now and says he's happy that people have been stopping to inquire about it. 

"We have to spread the word to let everybody know what it means," he said. 

All the funds raised for the clips will go to a number of foundations that sell them, such as la Fondation du CHU de Québec and la Fondation québécoise du cancer, so as to one day create palliative care rooms in Émilie's honour. 

In the meantime, Sansfaçon says his daughter would be proud of how far the initiative has come. 

"Émilie was a leader, she was funny, she was a happy girl and she will be right near me to make this project be a success," he said. 

"She was my best friend, and I promised her to go as far as I can to achieve her goal, her vision, to protect all the people who are presently fighting for their lives."

Based on reporting by Chloë Ranaldi

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