Morgan Stephens was about to pursue her dream political job — but instead found herself fighting off long COVID.
Stephens, 31, is one of small subset of people who continued to suffer from a variety of symptoms even after recovering from COVID-19.
The USC graduate got sick with the virus in November of 2020 after moving back to North Carolina during the pandemic, but it wasn't until three weeks later that she began suffering strange, debilitating symptoms, including an inability to communicate, and sensitivity to lights and sounds.
"At one point, I didn't think I was going to survive it," she said.
She saw dozens of specialists, and no one seemed able to help — then a former professor pointed her to the COVID Recovery Clinic at Keck Medicine of USC. So she moved back across the country to Southern California because "it was that desperate."
"No one really knew at the time what was going on," Dr. Caitlin McAuley, who helps run the clinic, said. The clinic now sees more than 250 patients, and McAuley says every variant produces new patients with long COVID.
"We thought 20% would end up in the hospital, and maybe 2% would die," McAuley said. "[Long COVID was] a totally unexpected outcome."
Doctors are still researching long COVID, but the top symptoms are fatigue, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, and brain fog.
"It almost looks like, kind of like a post-concussion syndrome, but there are so many more symptoms than that," McAuley said.
A year later, Stephens says she is ready to get back to life, which means a move with her husband to Washington D.C. and pursue her dream job in journalism.
"Compared to early days, I'm doing so much better," she said. "I still have migraines, I still have vertigo, like right now, I kinda feel like I'm on a boat."
According to McAuley, the best treatment for long COVID at this time seems to be occupational and physical therapy.