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Rehab to help long-haul COVID patients build back strength

Some COVID patients have symptoms lasting months
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Posted at 1:10 PM, Oct 28, 2021

While some COVID-19 patients recover fairly quickly, others have symptoms that linger for weeks and weeks, even months.

Vanessa Hernandez tested positive for COVID-19 back in June and doctors were not sure she would survive the coronavirus. It’s been months since her original diagnosis and it’s still extremely difficult for her to walk and live her normal life. Hernandez is one of several long-haul COVID patients receiving care at the Pulmonary Rehab Center at Advent Health Tampa to build back her strength.

“It was terrible. I didn’t think I was going to make it. I mean, I couldn’t breathe,” said Hernandez.

She has an underlying condition – interstitial lung disease – making her experience with COVID-19 much worse. Hernandez was in the hospital for nearly three weeks and in the Intensive Care Unit for nearly half of that stay.

“I was able to make it and go home. At the beginning when I got home, I couldn’t do anything pretty much. I have to learn how to manage my walking with my breathing all over again,” said Hernandez. She went on to explain symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, and muscle pain went on for weeks.

Caarn Hughes runs the Pulmonary Rehab Center at Advent Health Tampa, where Hernandez is one of several “long-haul” patients receiving treatment.

“It is extremely hard and they are depressed, frustrated, and they want to get back to their normal lives. It is very tough for them,” said Hughes.

“Long hauler” is a term often used to describe people who are experiencing post-COVID conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), post-COVID conditions are a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems people can experience four or more weeks after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

Hughes said the patients they are treating will have extreme fatigue as soon as they try to exercise. Patients like Hernandez will come to the rehabilitation center a few days a week and use machines like a treadmill, arm bike, and sit-down stepper, to build back strength. Hughes admits treating long-haul patients is very new to all the therapists and it really is a learning process.

“[It’s] extremely challenging because once we think we have it, COVID throws us another curve ball. Maybe a new symptom and we have to overcome the challenge,” said Hughes.

“It has worked wonders for me because when I got here, I had trouble walking from the car to here [the rehab center],” said Hernandez.

“She has made tremendous progress. She has so much motivation and energy. I am so proud of the work she has done,” said Hughes.

For more information on Pulmonary Rehab at Advent Health, click here.