Fatigue, memory loss and an elevated heart rate are just a few of the remaining effects Rob Engel, 30, is burdened with after surviving his battle with COVID-19.
Angel of Manahawkin was tested positive for coronavirus on March 2, 2021. He was a generally healthy man who remained active in sports and hiking and had no underlying health problems.
He believes it has changed by getting COVID.
“Overall, it was really a scary experience and I feel lucky to be alive,” Engel said. “I did not think anyone my age could go through such a brutal battle with COVID-19, but it shows that you just never know.”
Data show that millions of patients across the United States suffer from long-distance covid syndrome, also known as post-COVID syndrome, long-term covid or chronic covid, and still deal with symptoms of the virus weeks, months, and even years after got it. The most common symptoms of prolonged COVID include shortness of breath, fatigue, tiredness and muscle aches. Long-term COVID patients also experience anxiety, depression and other mental health problems due to the after-effects of the virus.
The number of people living with COVID symptoms varies depending on who counts, but the site Beckers Hospital Review says at least 313,582 residents of New Jersey had long-term coronavirus symptoms by 2021.
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During his first four days with COVID, Angel suffered from severe fatigue, followed by a “brutal” sore throat and on day six, fever that was high and unmanageable, especially at night.
One week after getting the coronavirus, Engel said his body was in so much pain that he could barely move or eat. He started having trouble breathing, thinking clearly, and his nails became bluish.
“It was a mental battle at this point and I really felt like the virus was killing me and I could do nothing but keep fighting,” Engel said. He spent days 10 to 15 “wild” and reclining — driving with severe symptoms, such as low oxygen levels, an elevated heart rate, and high fever.
Fortunately for Engel, his sister is a nurse and brother-in-law respiratory therapist at Community Medical Center in Toms River. They closely monitored his symptoms by measuring his oxygen levels and heart rate, which were consistently around 130-140 beats per minute, enough to give Engel “the feeling of running a race while sitting still.”
After surviving his most critical days with COVID, losing his sense of taste, sense of smell and more than 15 pounds, Engel said he finally began to see “a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Engel said he slowly began to feel like himself in mid-April last year after starting his recovery process. He slowly began to get back to daily activities such as walking around his house, brushing teeth, taking a shower and eating.
Even now, however, Engel said he has daily fatigue, accompanied by occasional memory loss, decreased endurance and an elevated heart rate.
Angel did not go to the doctor when he contracted coronavirus, but he went to the acute care center in his town after getting the virus checked, where doctors monitored his heart rate and his other chronic COVID symptoms.
In addition to hiking, starting a new diet, and monitoring his symptoms, Engel manages his symptoms by taking vitamin D, turmeric, B-complex pills, and staying hydrated.
He has also received his Pfizer vaccinations, giving him a low-grade fever after his first shot, and severe chills and an unbearable headache after his second.
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Lisa Rodio, 55, of Hammonton, had flown to Florida to visit her mother, who had taken a month-long trip after her husband (Lisa’s father) died of COVID.
Rodio was tested positive for coronavirus on his journey.
“Unfortunately, I continued to have active symptoms for me. I tested positive 13 times and had to extend the rental and find other places to live,” said Rodio, who had to stay in Florida for an extra three months when she was not allowed to board an aircraft due to her prolonged symptoms and positive COVID tests.
A month after returning to Garden State, Rodio said a series of symptoms came back that made her feel “as if she had COVID again.”
She continued to work while visiting several specialists for her many recurrent symptoms, which included a chronic cough that “makes her lungs angry”, fatigue, hot flashes, imbalance problems, weak bone health that caused her to break her wrist and ankle , and brain fog.
At one point, Rodio said, doctors may have thought her post-COVID disorder may be genetically linked when her father died of the virus, though doctors told Rodio that there was not enough historical data to support this information.
Rodio was consistent with several specialists and took medical tests to locate the problem. Doctors tested for things like rheumatoid arthritis and interstitial lung disease.
Because of this, along with dealing with her abundance of symptoms, Rodio has had to go on short-term disability and temporarily stopped working.
Many Americans with long-term COVID symptoms have had to stop working, which plays a role in the United States’ current shortage of labor, unemployment, and other economic problems as a result of the pandemic.
One of the many specialists she visited at the time, her pulmonologist, requested that she be given a cardiopulmonary exercise test (a test that evaluates how a person’s heart, lungs, and muscles work together) as soon as possible. The test was only offered at certain hospitals, one of which was Inspira Medical Center, which fortunately for her also had a recovery program for corona patients.
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Dr. Evelyn Balogun, chief physician for patients at Inspira Health Medical Group, said several patients return with persistent symptoms well after the 14-day protocol during the onset of the pandemic.
“They would be back to their baseline, so we increasingly began to see patients who, even after the quarantine period, were not back to their baseline and had persistent symptoms,” Balogun said. This led to conversations about what could be done for these patients, prompting Inspira to set up its COVID-19 recovery program towards the end of 2020.
The recovery program uses a network of specialists, combined with various therapies and resources, to provide post-COVID symptom sufferers with a specifically tailored plan for them to regain their health.
Through the program, Rodio undergoes physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy, to help with her brain fog and other cognitive symptoms. She also has access to mental health resources to help her cope with her less active lifestyle, anxiety, weight gain and other problems that long-term COVID patients deal with.
Inspira says about 200 people have received care at Inspira Medical Center Vineland and Inspira Medical Center Mullica Hill through the COVID-19 Recovery Program since it began in late 2020.
Balogun said patients with long-term coronavirus symptoms varied in age, background, symptoms, severity of symptoms, and how ill they were when they had coronavirus. The most common symptoms seen in the area were chronic cough and fatigue.
New studies, including one from the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases published in March, show that long-term COVID symptoms also differ with the type of variant affected by coronavirus.
Studies also show that COVID vaccines have been shown to reduce the likelihood of long-term symptoms.
Both Engel and Rodio were vaccinated as a way to combat COVID and their lasting symptoms. Both also remain active and hope that they will be able to reincarnate the good health they have had before.
“I really do and hope in good faith that the symptoms will go away with time,” said Engel, who also noted that nothing comes close, not a flu or cold, to the severity of a COVID infection.
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