From Brain Fog to Heart Damage: Rehab After COVID-19

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There have been 5.8 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States. 180,000 have died. For those who recovered, the path can be a long one. The more time spent in the ICU and on a ventilator, the harder and longer it will be to get back to normal … or get to a new normal.

From brain fog …

“It was like the flu on steroids,” shared COVID-19 survivor Clarence Troutman.

To fatigue… and trouble breathing.

“I could not draw in any air whatsoever,” Troutman recalled.

Living a month on a ventilator, Clarence Troutman is now COVID-free, but he knows surviving the disease was just the beginning.

“It was almost in some ways like being a newborn baby,” Troutman described.

“There's a lot of retraining, strengthening, and a whole process to get people back to living their lives,” explained William Niehaus, MD, who specializes in physical medicine & rehabilitation at University of Colorado Hospital. 

“It just, really took a lot of intensive rehab,” added Kat Aksamit, PT, DPT, NCS, a physical therapist at University of Colorado Hospital.

Doctors found that many patients need a team of therapists to relearn how to walk, talk, and even problem solve, as the disease attacks every organ from the lungs to the heart to the brain.

“Being on a ventilator for an extended period of time causes muscle wasting, it affects multiple organ systems,” expounded Dr. Niehaus.

A recent study showed a majority of survivors had inflammation in the heart which can lead to cardiac disease and heart failure. Strokes are also a growing concern.

“We're seeing a lot of neurologic damage with people that have had COVID disease and a lot of blood clots,” elaborated Dr. Niehaus.

University of Colorado Hospital was one of the first facilities to begin actively rehabbing patients that are still COVID positive. Clarence started his rehab just three days after being off the ventilator.

“We had to kind of bring everything back a step at a time,” recalled Troutman.

Five months later …

“Things are coming around slowly but surely,” Troutman concluded.

Hospitals around the country are revamping their rehab procedures … evaluating patients daily, revising how much rehab patients can handle. Some hospitals are using biocontainment units to keep patients from spreading contaminated air.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer; Marsha Lewis, Field Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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