KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The longer the COVID-19 crisis drags on, the more doctors are learning about the affects of the virus on the body. Long-term organ damage is becoming more common among survivors.
Lynn Flora works as a nurse at The University of Kansas Health System and almost died there. She doesn’t know how long it will take her to fully recover from COVID-19 because her body is still learning to function again.
“I feel extremely lucky, because most people would not have survived this,” Flora said.
Flora was diagnosed July 20 and spent 79 days in the hospital. Forty-five of those days were spent on a ventilator in a coma.
“In fact, I guess, I got so bad that they called the family in and told them I wouldn’t be there in two weeks,” Flora said. “But I’m a little bit obstinate and some of that stuff, and decided I want to hang around a little bit longer. I think God did, too, so here I am.”
Now recovering at home, she is still fighting the lingering effects of the virus. Her fatigue and muscle loss is so severe that she had to learn to walk again.
“When I first started I couldn’t hold a cup, I couldn’t hold a pencil, I couldn’t hold anything because you shake so bad,” she said.
Flora is also now living with a blood clot in her lungs and damage to her brain.
“The brain fog, sometimes it’s just almost like you’re living in a bubble and you’re watching stuff going on around you, but you’re not really processing it,” Flora said. “It has affected my short-term memory to some extent.”
University of Kansas Health System Infectious Disease Doctor Dana Hawkinson sees the most common long-term organ damage from COVID to the lungs, heart and brain.
“If you have the brain fog, is it doing mental exercises to help you get back to where you were? Things of that nature. There’s really no specific treatment; a lot of these treatments are what we call ‘supportive care,'” he said.
Dr. Hawkinson believes a lot of the organ damage is not from COVID-19 itself, but from the immune system working overtime to fight off the virus, causing inflammation.
“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen with this is that even with mild to moderate disease, sometimes if you don’t even need to seek hospitalization, you could have some of those residual problems,” he said.
The short and long-term affects of COVID-19 are all challenges they are working on at the KU Covid Recovery Clinic. Medical experts hope, but do not know, if the affected organs can fully recover.
They say that wearing a mask, social distancing and not gathering in large groups is still the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 and the lasting health affects that it can cause.