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Dr. Sarah Moyer, director of the Louisville Department of Public Health and Wellness (LMPHW), was joined by Dr. SarahBeth Hartlage, the department’s associate medical director; Dr. Joseph Flynn, chief administrator, Norton Medical Group, and physician-in-chief, Norton Cancer Institute; and Dr. Christian Furman, medical director, UofL Health Trager Institute to highlight the side effects of long COVID. Louisville residents Demetrius Booker and Jody Demling also described their experiences and lasting symptoms with the virus.
“Even though case numbers are on the downward trend, the virus is still very much here and, unfortunately, will be for some time. People in the community are still being impacted by COVID-19,” Dr. Moyer said. “At this moment, hundreds of people are in Louisville hospitals fighting the virus. Many lives have been or will be forever impacted by COVID.”
Here are the key COVID-19 data metrics for Feb. 13, 2022:
In the summer of 2020, Booker, a graphic designer with the J.B. Speed School of Engineering, was a healthy father. But, when he fell ill with COVID-19, he developed symptoms including high fever, fatigue, difficulty breathing and loss of taste.
His sister urged him to go to the hospital, and he was prepped for a CT scan in Louisville.
“The next thing I know, I was in Lexington, and a nurse came into the room with a full getup of a helmet and everything. She asked, ‘Mr. Booker. How are you?’ And the first thing I thought was ‘Why can’t I talk?’” Booker said. “I was already trached, and I wondered why I have all these wires and needles stuck in me.”
Booker knew he went into the hospital on July 18, but the real shock came when the nurse informed him that it was September. He had spent 95 days in the hospital and a month in an induced coma. If he had waited another 24 hours to go to the hospital, he would have died.
“The only lasting effect I have right now is breathing,” Booker said. “Breathing is still difficult at times just because of the damage that COVID did to my lungs. It was explained to me that the lungs can heal, but they do not regenerate, so whatever damage is done is done.”
Booker has gotten vaccinated and recently received his booster shot.
“The one thing that kept just replaying in my head was basically when doctors tell you, ‘hey, if you get sick again like this, you’re not going make it,” he said.
Demling, publisher of Cardinal Authority on the 24/7Sports network, said his only underlying health condition was a thyroid issue. But in March 2020, Demling said he started feeling chills after traveling to cover the ACC men’s basketball tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“I felt weird, and my wife immediately was like, ‘you go in there. We’re going out here and we’re going to quarantine from you, just in case,’” he said. “For about four or five days, I had a fever. It was off and on. I was in contact with my doctors, and I wasn’t showing all the symptoms at the time.
“About seven days later, I think it was April 1, I felt really terrible. I remember sneezing at one point, and it felt like every bone in my body was going to break.”
Demling suffered from fatigue, high fever and a constant cough along with low oxygen levels. His wife called EMS, and they donned HazMat suits to assist him out of the house. Once he was admitted to the hospital, he was immediately placed on a ventilator.
After several days, he was removed from a ventilator and eventually released on April 15.
“It was probably, I guess, July or August of 2020, I felt like I was getting back to myself,” Demling added. “By the end of that year, I was doing pretty much everything that I could have done before.
“But there are days like Christmas morning, and I just didn’t feel right. And you know, I had a dizzy spell that morning and lasted for a few minutes. I have them every now and then and I don’t feel it as often as I did maybe a year ago. It doesn’t affect my everyday life, which is great for me and it’s great for my family and the people that are around me, but it’s still there. And you know, at this point I’m very fortunate that I’m alive.”
Demling said it was important for him and his wife to get vaccinated and boosted. “If I could do anything to prevent from having to feel that again, I’m going to do it,” he said.
Demling also noted that there is more research and resources, which will help the community. He added, “When I had it, we didn’t know as much as we do now, and that makes me feel even more fortunate.”
Although many COVID-19 patients improve after several weeks, some people experience post-COVID conditions. Lasting effects can include a wide variety of ongoing health problems, which can last four or more weeks after being infected with the virus.
Recovering from COVID’s long-haul symptoms require special care, and UofL Health Trager Institute’s Dr. Furman opened the clinic in October 2020. It’s a collaboration between the UofL Department of Internal Medicine, UofL Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute and the UofL Trager Institute Republic Bank Foundation Optimal Aging Clinic.
Furman described that they have seen several people who have experienced long-haul symptoms such as:
“Some doctors don’t even really know about the symptoms, and they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re fine, you’re fine,’ and they dismiss it,” she said. “And that’s what really is so hard for the patient because it’s like, ‘No, it’s real.’ They really do have these issues.
“Yes, this is real. This is true. This clinic is helpful because the more we see the same type of patients, we have a better feel for what to do. So, we’re here as a resource.”
The clinic also has behavioral health therapists who can refer to counseling. She said that some patients are continuing to experience pain from their symptoms, so they need to use mindfulness and meditation to get a good night’s sleep.
Norton Medical Group’s Dr. Flynn also has worked to establish Norton Infectious Diseases Institute Long-term COVID-19 Care Clinics, which have been open since September 2020. Both adult and pediatric patients can connect to a team of multidisciplinary specialists to address ongoing health needs ranging from lung and heart to neurologic and gastrointestinal issues.
“One in three patients will have anxiety, and one in five will have depression, and that’s a major component,” Flynn said. “Dr. Furman talked about a PTSD-like syndrome, and that is what we see. (The) important thing to really point out for people is referred to as poignant cases, when people are very, very sick. But you don’t have to be very sick with COVID to have long-term COVID symptoms, and that’s something that we’re seeing pretty frequently.”
Dr. Flynn emphasized that unvaccinated patients have a threefold increased chance of experiencing long COVID symptoms than people who are vaccinated.
“We’ve seen everything from people who were marathoners who can’t blow out birthday candles to people who were students and high functioning, and they have overarching brain fog, headaches, fatigue. It is a profound trauma,” he added.
View this week’s COVID-19 briefing with public health officials here.
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The city’s COVID-19 data dashboard, a complete list of COVID-19 testing sites, vaccine information, prevention and more can be found at www.louisvilleky.gov/covid19. The LOU HEALTH COVID19 Helpline is also available: 502-912-8598.
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‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort