COVID-19 is changing the lives of long haulers and doctors don’t know why


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Most people who get COVID-19 recover in weeks, but for some life may never be the same.

Glenn Edwards of Chesapeake is an avid runner who hit his peak just as the pandemic hit the U.S. last spring. “Fastest I’d ever run in my entire life,” he told WAVY.

Not long after the One City Marathon in March 2020, Edwards said he started feeling a little under the weather. “You know I only really felt like I had a bug for like four days; I felt like I had the flu .”

Turns out, he had coronavirus. So, he quarantined and a few weeks later laced up his shoes to get back to training. “I couldn’t get a mile down the road and I’d start just feeling like I was running out of wind.”

This time the diagnosis stopped him in his tracks: heart failure.

His cardiologist told him it takes an event for that to happen. Edwards told, “The only event I’ve had is COVID.”

Jon Cotton’s COVID story is different, but also devastating. He is a nurse anesthetist at Sentara Princess Anne Hospital in Virginia Beach. Cotton was admitted to the hospital for two weeks last March.

“It’s just incredible. Air hunger. It’s horrifying is what it is,” he told WAVY.

After six months of therapy and recovery he’s still only able to work part time.

“I’m very angry; very, very angry,” he said.

Breathing can sometimes be a struggle. His heart races for no reason and the fatigue is so debilitating, he was forced to sell his farm.

“So it was our dream to have our horses on our own property and we did, and then with this, my wife couldn’t do it alone. I couldn’t help out on the farm in the past year so we had to re-home our horses.”

Doctors don’t know why some COVID-19 patients become long haulers while others don’t.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with post-COVID conditions report experiencing different combinations of the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • “Brain Fog”
  • Headache
  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitation
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Cough
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Fever

Dr. Xian Qiao started a long hauler’s clinic at Sentara Heart Hospital where he’s working to get answers and give hope. He told, “To be acknowledged, to be heard that this is happening, that this is real, that they’re not just making these symptoms up in their minds.”

What surprised him most he said is the mental hit and multidimensional factor of it. Dr. Qiao prescribes certain inhalers, steroids and physical therapy to help in some cases, but is finding it just takes time to clear the brain fog and fatigue that are the most common complaints.

“In this world of Twitter and Facebook and Instagram everything needs to move at a million miles an hour and we forget that COVID’s only been here for a year,” he said.

Other infectious diseases, such as Lyme disease, can also cause longer-term symptoms for a variety of reasons.

Some long haulers are now reporting some relief after getting the vaccine, but Dr. Qiao cautions while that is good news, it could just be that time has passed.

Scientists at the CDC and around the world are actively investigating the causes of these post-COVID conditions, but Dr. Qiao said, “We’re not there yet; I don’t know if we ever will be there.”

That kind of honesty weighs heavily on the long haulers. Cotton told WAVY, “I worry that this is as good as it’s going to get.”

This could be the new normal.

“Now I run with a heart monitor that’s hooked to my watch and it alarms when I get to 130,” Edwards explained.

He’s taking it slow, while scientists race to find something that might allow long haulers to pick up the pace again.

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