Recovering from COVID-19 is now proving to be half the battle for patients, both those who suffered a severe illness and those who had only mild symptoms.
That's why doctors at UT Southwestern have launched a COVID recovery program in Dallas and Frisco.
Jason Leslie of Little Elm, a teacher and baseball coach, signed up for the program after suffering from lingering effects weeks after his illness.
He said he wasn't overly concerned when he tested positive for COVID back in July.
"I'm 46 and in pretty good health. When I came down with the symptoms, I really wasn't worried about the severe cases that you hear about," said Leslie.
However, 11 days into his illness, he wound up hospitalized, barely able to breathe.
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"To be honest with you, I was scared because a lot of people were going into the hospital not coming out," said Leslie.
He was released after a couple of days, he said, with little guidance.
"They release you from the hospital and it's, 'here's your oxygen. Good luck,'" he said.
His recovery didn't go as expected, he said.
He suffered from fatigue, shortness of breath, extreme brain fog and anxiety about an uncertain future.
"I'm a teacher so knowing my stuff is important to my job but it got to where I couldn't do mental math very well. I would walk into a room and forget why I was there, lose stuff. It was hard to almost function day-to-day," said Leslie.
On the advice of his doctor, he signed up for UT Southwestern's COVID RECOVER program, an outpatient program initially created to help severely ill patients rehabilitate and gain strength after a hospital stay.
"Very quickly, we started to get phone calls and referrals from patients who had milder illnesses but were still having a little persistent symptoms that were impacting their day to day life," said Medical Director of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at UTSW Frisco Clinic Dr. Juan Cabrera.
"At this point, we are looking for patients having symptoms regardless of how severe their original illness is. We want to be able to address the entire spectrum of these patients," said Dr. Cabrera.
The program taps into a diverse team of counselors, rehabilitation therapists, neurological experts and others to tailor a treatment program meant to guide survivors through the unknowns of recovery and monitor them each step of the way.
"While people may feel that they're alone and no one really knows how to handle this, we are using what we do know about science and the body and rehab in order to provide people a really expert-guided pathway to recovery," said Cabrera.
Leslie's rehab program included monitored cardio exercise and speech pathology sessions to strengthen his short term memory.
"In July, I was scared for my life. Now we are in December and I’m no longer fearing for my life. I feel like the RECOVER program helped me get back on track," said Leslie.
While the program initially only accepted patients upon referral, Cabrera said COVID-19 survivors are no longer required to have a doctor's referral to participate in the program.
He added that survivors are able to seek help at any point in their recovery.
Those interested can call the clinic sites at 214-645-2080 (Dallas) or 469-914-9187 (Frisco).
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.