Oct. 14—SHARON — After climbing a dozen stairs to enter his church, Father Steve Repa sits in a pew for 10 minutes to regain his breath and strength.
Nearly a year after contracting COVID-19 on Dec. 9, Repa continues suffering from severe lingering symptoms of the disease.
"I have good days and bad days," the pastor of St. John's Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Sharon said. "But it seems like I have more bad days than good."
Known in the medical community as "long COVID," the illness happens when a patient continues to have lingering COVID-19 effects months after the virus leaves the body. The illness can be as minor as sniffles. But in severe cases, it often includes raging headaches, shortness of breath and extreme exhaustion.
Repa has all three.
His maladies aren't the worst-case scenario — but it's still very bad.
He's improved from his early days of COVID-19. At one point he was confined to bed for 5 weeks.
"At least my heart palpitations have stopped," Repa said. "I could feel my heart go boom, boom, boom."
His strength evaporates even when performing minor physical tasks.
While grocery shopping he often uses an electric cart to ferry him through the store.
"Sometimes I take the cart because all of a sudden it gets hard for me to breathe and then I get tremors in my hands," Repa said.
Even mental exertion saps his body and mind.
"I was filling out baptismal certificates the other day and I got dizzy," Repa said. "I really had a hard time focusing my eyes on what needed to be done."
He's been on multiple medications to combat his condition.
Repa isn't alone. Overall, 1 in 13 adults in the U.S., 7.5 percent have "long COVID" symptoms, defined as symptoms lasting three or more months after first contracting the virus.
His physician prescribed him steroids to give his immune system a boost. Over a 6-week period he gained 25 pounds — a steroid side-effect.
"It didn't help," Repa said of the prescription.
Adding vitamin B to his daily regime has upped his energy a little, he relates. But it's nowhere close to where he was before COVID.
"I'm at the point of asking a doctor to hang me upside down and beat this out of me if he has to," Repa said.
A visit to a pulmonologist, a doctor who diagnoses and treats respiratory illnesses, offers a glimmer of hope.
"He's putting me in pulmonary rehabilitation," Repa said. "It's not a cure, but he said it's helped others like me."
This comes at a time when Ukrainians everywhere are reacting to Russia's invasion of their homeland. Fluent in Ukrainian, Repa wasn't born there but his parents were, and relatives still live in the Eastern European nation.
He scrupulously monitors the war by watching and reading news reports.
"It's painful to see what's going on," Repa said.
His faith in God remains strong through the dual ordeals. But he acknowledges at times his emotions hit rock bottom.
"There's anxiety that comes with all of this," Repa said. "I just don't know when it will end."