North Texas centers offer treatment for long-haul COVID-19
Scott Amon was getting ready for work on a Saturday in June 2020 when he noticed he couldn’t catch his breath.
” I can not breathe. I can’t catch my breath. I can’t breathe, ârecalls the 62-year-old man who called his wife from the bathroom in their Fort Worth home.
The couple called paramedics, who gave her oxygen and suggested she go to the hospital. Minutes after arriving, Amon said doctors told him he had tested positive for COVID-19 and it was affecting his lungs.
All told, a diagnosis of Amun – and other complications from the virus – would require two separate one-month hospital stays and four months of physiotherapy.
Amon is among the thousands of people across the country who have gone through what is known as the “long COVID.” People who suffer from long-haul COVID, commonly known as long-haul, report lingering effects of the new coronavirus – such as brain fog, fatigue, and muscle weakness – for weeks or months after testing positive.
The number of coronavirus patients who experience lengthy COVID is difficult to quantify, NPR reported, but studies show that it is more common in people with a severe case of the disease.
To help overcome the challenges of his extended hospital stay and complications from COVID-19, Amon turned to SporTherapy, a physiotherapy center that has designed treatments specifically for long-haul COVID-19.
âOvercoming COVID and the long haul COVID is about physical and mental rehabilitation,â said Brandon O’Malley, a physiotherapist at one of SporTherapy sites in Fort Worth that works with long haul men. âGetting back to a pre-COVID level is emotionally taxing and stressful when you are completely dependent on a family member or can’t provide, can’t do things you normally could. It really is wreaking havoc.
During his first illness, Amon was hospitalized for about a month and was on oxygen the entire time. Although he was never put on a ventilator, his blood oxygen levels fell below 80% more than once, which brought him closer to an even more serious illness. A normal level of oxygen in the blood is between 95% and 100%, while anything below 90% requires medical attention, experts say.
Amon said he had been home for less than two weeks before falling “desperately ill” again. An MRI and CT scan at the hospital revealed he had blood clots in his gut and the lining around his stomach was inflamed, both caused by his initial illness.
He was hospitalized for an additional four weeks and received treatment including blood thinners, intravenous meals, antibiotics and twice-daily injections.
âI was like, ‘Am I going to get over it? Or will I sound like the ones I heard on the news? ‘ “, did he declare. âI would call my wife, my daughter, my sonâ¦ and I would say to them, ‘I can’t take any more. I can’t take much more of this.
But the emotional toll of the virus did not end after its release. After his second stay, even basic daily chores – showering, using the bathroom, and brushing teeth – were almost impossible for Amon to do on his own.
âI didn’t have the strength in my legs,â Amon said. âI couldn’t stand on my own. “
When he started physiotherapy sessions three times a week at SporTherapy in early September 2020 on the recommendation of his family doctor, Amon was using a walker. He was so weak he couldn’t lift himself more than a few inches from a sitting position on a chair, and he couldn’t walk around inside a clinic on his own.
O’Malley said SporTherapy staff were seeing similar symptoms in many COVID-19 long-haul travelers.
âBeing hospitalized for four weeks is taking its toll,â he said. He pointed out that being bedridden can cause muscle atrophy and dead bone density. âAll of these changes that occur after being bedridden during that period of time add up and add to the effects of the COVID virus. “
While there are unique challenges in dealing with long-haul COVID-19, many of the symptoms they exhibit are similar to people who are long-term hospitalized or placed on a ventilator for other issues, O ‘said. Malley.
And the baseline assessments used for long-haul COVID-19 remain the same as the benchmarks for people with other health conditions, he said.
Two of the primary benchmarks used to assess new patients are the six-minute walk test, where a therapist determines how far a patient can walk during that time, and the sit-stand test, where a therapist counts how many times a patient can transition. from a sitting to a standing position in 30 seconds.
âWe can actually find baseline numbers on where they are when we first see them that we can trackâ¦ to make sure they’re making progress,â O’Malley said.
From there, the exercises are tailored to individual needs.
For Amon, common exercises at the clinic included box squats, where he held a kettlebell and trained to go from a squatting position to a standing position. The exercise aims to mimic getting in and out of a chair, getting in and out of a toilet seat, or getting in and out of a car.
Amon also spent time on a recumbent bike and doing an exercise that involved lying on a sliding platform and pushing his body up and down using his legs.
Amon also received home exercises, which included practicing using a balance board.
During all exercises, a physiotherapist closely monitors the patient’s vital signs to make sure they remain within safe ranges.
A little hope for long-haul travelers
Therapists determine when a person completes their program based on the person’s progress towards their personal goals and what normal strength and activity looks like.
âEveryone presents a little differently for different reasons,â said O’Malley. âIt also depends on their day-to-day functions. We know there are people who chase after children or grandchildren or who do vigorous work. Everyone is affected slightly differently.
For Amon, physiotherapy ended in January 2021, when he was able to walk on his own without losing his balance and do daily activities on his own. He remembers it was a big step forward when he was able to step over the edge of his tub and step into his shower without holding his wife’s arm.
Amon is now back at work at Walmart, a job he got a few months before his illness, to supplement his retirement savings. But he still feels the lingering effects of the disease.
Amon always keeps a chair nearby at work just in case he gets out of breath, and his doctor has recommended that he see a specialist for potentially permanent lung damage.
âWhen I got home for good, my neighbors were like, ‘Has your bowels been caused by COVID? â, Said Amon. âPeople just don’t understand what it does to you. “
O’Malley encouraged people who think they have lingering symptoms of COVID-19 to turn to physiotherapy.
âPeople have to understand that this is happening more and more, and they have to be aware that they can do something,â he said. âIt doesn’t have to be a slow and drawn-out process. â¦ There are programs where physiotherapists can actually take this forward.