Regional residents still living with long-haul complications from COVID-19

·6 min read

Jan. 25—For those who are experiencing long-haul symptoms and complications as a result of COVID-19, it could be a slow recovery, according to Dr. Aseedu Kalik, internal medicine specialist and primary care physician.

Kalik said he has seen many patients who are experiencing complications from COVID-19, mainly blood clots, congestive heart failure, pulmonary fibrosis, heart palpitations, fatigue and fog. Other symptoms may occur too, he said, but these are the ones he has seen the most.

Many patients with long-haul symptoms, he said, can be perfectly healthy. Some who have long-haul complications might have even had mild COVID-19 infections. The virus impacts a variety of people in many different ways.

Those who are immunocompromised, however, are not only at risk for severe infection, but also severe complications later down the road, making it all the more imperative to get vaccinated and boosted.

Long-haul symptoms can begin occurring within one month after being infected with the virus, which Kalik said is when blood clots are most likely to occur.

Blood clots, he said, are earlier complications of COVID-19, but can affect individuals for up to six months after if they need to be placed on blood thinners.

Other symptoms such as pulmonary fibrosis, or "stiff lung" and heart problems, he said, typically occur several months later and can have much longer lasting effects.

"One of the things I see is stiff lung," he said. "The lung tissue is not reconciling like normal, so those people become very short of breath within a very short distance and it lingers for a long, long time."

One of his patients, he said, is still dealing with fatigue and shortness of breath even a year and a half later.

Congestive heart failure, he said, is another common long-haul complication where the heart does not pump blood as well as it should, resulting in shortness of breath, fatigue and irregular heart beats.

"They become limited in their day-to-day activities," he said.

For some serious issues, he said, there are medications and treatments that can help patients recover, but he said recovery time varies, from six months before some progress can be seen, to possibly even two years before a patient feels completely 100% again.

Much at this point, he said, is still unknown about the virus and its effects on the body long-term.

"It's really too early. Some of the people will recover a little bit, some will hang on for a long time," he said.

Owensboro radio personality Chad Benefield got diagnosed with COVID-19 on Dec. 29, 2020.

Although he has recovered from the initial symptoms, he said he began experiencing complications soon after, beginning with a blood clot in March, 2021.

Benefield said he is perfectly healthy and active and despite that, he still had a severe COVID-19 infection and some lingering complications afterwards.

He said he was on blood thinners for five to six months to resolve the blood clot in his leg, but other complications have since developed, including tinnitus, where he hears a constant ringing in his ear.

"Since having COVID, my ears never stop ringing," he said. "It's pretty bad. If there's no noise in a room, that's all I can hear, is my ear ringing."

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of options for treating tinnitus, except for learning to cope with it.

"One of the only things you can do is just condition yourself to ignore it, which I try to do, but it can be difficult, especially at night when I'm trying to go to sleep," he said.

He said he has also experienced fogginess and an altered taste and smell, as well.

"You just absolutely forget everything. You just can't keep anything straight in your head," he said. "I've had to try to accept the fact that I'm functioning at about 70 to 80% and I never feel right. Thirteen months later, there's never a day I feel right, but nobody sees that. I can't tell you the last day I felt 100%. It was before Dec. 29, 2020."

Julie Murphy, 56, said she also had a difficult run-in with COVID-19 in July 2021. Seven months later, she still does not feel completely herself just yet.

Murphy said she commonly feels fatigued and short-breathed. She was told to expect the symptoms to continue between three to six months, but they have persisted.

Even now, she said she still experiences fogginess.

"It's been almost seven months now and I just have really bad fatigue and I just feel like I can't breathe," she said. "There's not a whole lot now that they can do."

She said she has also experienced hair loss and her husband, Keith Murphy, who had a milder infection, has been having similar long-haul symptoms of chest pains and shortness of breath.

"When I bend over and pick up stuff, I get out of breath really easy. The fatigue is awful — you're always tired," Keith Murphy said.

April Schartung of Owensboro said she has a distorted taste and smell after being infected with COVID-19 in August 2021.

"Funny thing is that I didn't really notice that I had lost my smell until our dog was sprayed by a skunk and came through the doggy door while we were asleep. My husband immediately woke up with the smell, but I didn't smell a thing. That is when I knew something was wrong," she said. "I, at times, have a burning trash smell stuck in my nose. Because of this issue, I have already dropped two pant sizes. I wouldn't wish this on anyone."

Kelly Geary of Ohio County, was infected with COVID-19 in January, 2021.

She spent eight days in the hospital and was placed on oxygen.

Geary said she has lost more than half of her hair and still experiences an abnormal heart rate, fogginess and fatigue just walking from room to room.

"I was 57 years old and overall in good health when I contracted COVID," she said.

Kalik said while many could experience long-haul symptoms for up to two years, most of his patients with these complications are seeing gradual progress and are in stable condition and he does expect them to recover at some point; it is just difficult to pin-point when exactly that might be.

The potential for long-term complications, he said, is all the more reason for everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated and boosted.

Christie Netherton, cnetherton@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7360