‘It’s debilitating’: Louisville COVID survivor still dealing with symptoms

Some COVID survivors are continuing to deal with symptoms months after their diagnosis.
Published: Apr. 9, 2021 at 11:45 PM EDT
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COVID-19(U.S. Department of Energy)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Recovering from COVID hasn’t been an easy experience for some survivors, and Melanie Heim knows it firsthand.

Heim tested positive for COVID-19 in November. She said after 10 days of being sick, she started to feel normal again. Then 10 days after recovering, she said her symptoms started to return.

“We were in IKEA in Indianapolis walking around and all of a sudden I noticed my legs started to hurt so bad,” she explained, “and I knew it wasn’t arthritis pain. It was a different kind of pain. It was like pain I had when I had COVID. I got home and all of a sudden it was like a crash. I was on the couch for 10 days.”

She said she had a mild fever, joint pain, muscle pain, and dizziness.

“Ever since, it comes and goes,” she said. “I will get it for a week or two and then it will go away and it will keep coming back, but the dizziness is getting worse.”

She said she had extreme fatigue after testing positive for the virus, and that too comes and goes.

“It’s getting a little better, I guess, with the fatigue, but it’s still there,” she said. “It’s like when all my symptoms come back, it’s like, you know, you’re in bed for a good couple days, like three days. Extreme fatigue, joint pain, muscle pain, everything.”

She said she’s been to a lot of doctors, trying to figure out what is going on. She said anxiety has been brought up, but she said that’s not the root cause of it.

“Anxiety I didn’t have before COVID and these symptoms I didn’t have before COVID,” she said. “So when you go to a doctor and they say it could be anxiety, it’s not anxiety. This is real, real symptoms, you know it’s debilitating.”

Heim told WAVE 3 News she used to play tennis and run before she got COVID.

“When you used to be a lively, on-the-go person and now you’re just like stuck to the couch and just withdrawn and basically a different person,” she said.

Now, things like going to the grocery store are hard.

“Walking down the grocery aisle is hard for me,” Heim said. “I have to hold on to a basket in order to steady myself with the balance issues and dizziness.”

Heim said extreme dizziness was bothering her Friday, but some days that goes away.

“I don’t have the chronic leg pain today, but you never know what I’ll get tomorrow,” she said.

While Heim tries to manage her symptoms, other COVID survivors are dealing with other types of symptoms.

A new study, published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal, found one in three COVID survivors has neurological and mental health symptoms.

“When we see a study that catches headlines like this, it raises alarms,” Dr. Michael Haboubi, a stroke and sports neurologist with UofL Health, said.

Haboubi said with any sort of severe medical problem, there will be an increased rate of depression, PTSD, and mental health needs.

“With COVID-19, we’re seeing there might be an increased rate for some of these behavioral health or mental health disorders as well as neurologic disorders afterward,” he said.

The study showed those with a more severe illness had a higher rate of some of these issues. Haboubi said that’s something seen before with previous viruses, so it’s not too surprising.

It also found some patients also suffered strokes related to the virus. Haboubi said he is noticing that, too.

“We’ve seen more people have strokes that we attribute to this virus than we typically would with the flu virus or other viruses,” he said. “I would still say it was a minority of our patients that have had strokes. We still have had people who have had strokes due to high blood pressure, smoking, cholesterol, diabetes, things like that.”

He said typically during a bad flu season, there is a bad stroke season to follow.

“The reason for that is anytime your body is trying to recover from an illness, it stresses the body. Your heart has to work harder, your immune system is activated, There’s an inflammatory state in your body and stroke is a disease that’s based on inflammation. If there’s inflammation, there’s going to be more stroke. We’ve seen that in the past with other viruses as well,” he said.

Haboubi added they are noticing patients have a stroke a couple of weeks after having COVID-19.

“Is that more than just due to chance? We’re still trying to figure that out. But certainly, it’s been enough to put my antenna up to say this is something we need to be looking for, looking at,” he said.

Haboubi said if someone thinks they’re having a stroke, they should go to the hospital right away. Those having brain fog, fatigue, insomnia, or are feeling depressed or anxious, there are things healthcare providers can do to help.

“Know that is is common,” he said. This is, that’s one thing this study has said is you’re not alone. There are other people going through this as well. There are support groups that are available. That can be helpful, as well.”

He said some of the symptoms may resolve themselves over time, citing some of his friends had brain fog, that lifted after a while.

“Have the help of a professional and know there can be a light at the end of the tunnel.”

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