Kansas City doctor talks long-term effects of COVID-19 on the lungs

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — To keep climbers safe, the venue for the Fight for Air Climb moved outdoors this year to Children’s Mercy Park. It also added hundreds of stair steps to climb.

The goal is to raise money so the American Lung Association can continue its fight against lung cancer, emphysema, asthma and now lung damage caused by COVID-19.   

The fight is an uphill battle for sure, made more complicated by a pandemic that pushed millions more into a fight for air.

As Kevin Olson moves step after step up and down the aisles of Children’s Mercy Park, he knows he has something to celebrate. Ten months ago, in the midst of a global pandemic, he had a successful double lung transplant. 

“I was a ticking time bomb out there, needing a lung transplant,” Olson said.  “My lungs right now are the normal range. Feeling good. Ready to go on the stairs.”

Fourteen-hundred stairs if you are counting. It’s a huge task for about 350 climbers. Some are cancer survivors, and some are long-haulers who months after testing negative for COVID-19, are still struggling to get enough oxygen.

“Thirty-three million people have been affected by COVID in the United States,” said Dr. Mario Castro, the chief pulmonologist at the University of Kansas Health System. “Twenty to 30% of those will have long-term sequalae from COVID.” 

That’s between 5 and 10 million people. The American Lung Association is already seeing an influx of these patients and they are expecting to see many, many more. 

The ALA is trying to raise $25 million to fight the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the lungs. KU Hospital now has a post-COVID clinic where long-haulers are evaluated and treated for heart and lung disease.

Castro said most people fully recover from COVID-19 in 6 to 8 weeks, but if you still have a persistent dry cough, chest tightness or shortness of breath, you should see a doctor about further testing because there are some treatment options.

“We are starting some treatments to try to get the inflammation down and the wind pipes to open up and help people breathe better.” Castro said. 

If you would like to donate to the American Lung Association click here.

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