Recovering from long COVIDDec 23, 2021 11:05AM ● By Melinda Mawdsley
Nancy Lofholm feels like she’s on a roller coaster. But not the fun kind.
Grand Junction resident Lofholm, 71, has spent the past several months with “long COVID”—the condition where people retain one or more COVID-19 symptoms after their acute infection is over, or even develop COVID symptoms weeks or months after recovery.
“One day you think you’re okay. The next day you’re down sick again. One day, I can walk the dogs. The next day I can’t,” Lofholm said about dealing with long COVID, also known as post-COVID-19 syndrome. “It makes it very hard to plan your life. I’ve canceled so many things in the past four months that have landed on a down day.”
The roller coaster recovery of ups and downs, sometimes out of seemingly nowhere, is not unique to Lofholm.
An estimated 20 to 40 percent of all people diagnosed with COVID have developed long COVID with varying degrees of severity and a variety of symptoms, said Nikos Hollis, nurse practitioner at the COVID Recovery Clinic at Fruita’s Colorado Canyons Hospital.
The most common long COVID symptoms are chronic fatigue, muscle/joint pain, elevated heart rate, shortness of breath, exercise intolerance and brain fog, which translates into clouded thinking, short-term memory loss, difficulty communicating or reading with no comprehension.
In Lofholm’s case, she has exercise intolerance where she feels like she’s getting the flu a day or two after over-exerting herself physically. She also suffers from a horrible tinnitus where it sounds like someone is routinely “beating this drum in my ear,” she said.
These changes to her normal way of life are what prompted her to visit the COVID Recovery Clinic.
The long haul
Lofholm was diagnosed with COVID on August 22, 2021. She was vaccinated, and believes the vaccinations saved her from hospitalization or worse. But when her recovery from her initial diagnosis of COVID wasn’t complete after a month, a friend and physical therapist at Colorado Canyons Hospital told Lofholm about the long COVID therapy ongoing in Fruita.
The COVID Recovery Clinic, located at 300 W. Ottley Ave., Fruita, formally opened in early December 2021. But according to nurse practitioner Hollis, long COVID patients have been coming to Fruita from across Colorado and out-of-state since mid-2020, just months after the pandemic began.
As of mid-December 2021, the clinic was seeing upwards of 170 people a week, most of whom were younger than 60 years old. However, Hollis believes there’s an unknown number of western Colorado seniors living with long COVID who either don’t think they have it or don’t believe anyone can help them.
“Young people know they shouldn’t feel crappy three months after an illness,” Hollis said. In contrast, older people may equate chronic fatigue, brain fog or pain to their age.
Anyone can develop long COVID, even people with asymptomatic cases, but a person is more likely to develop long COVID if he or she is 60 years or older with comorbidities such as diabetes or high blood pressure and had a severe case of COVID. Women also tend to develop long COVID more frequently than men.
In Lofholm’s case, other than being female and 71, she’s healthy, which is why she knew something was wrong when she simply wasn’t recovering and her tinnitus became so severe.
“One of the biggest things I’ve heard from people is they feel like they’re the only ones on the planet who feel this way,” Hollis said. “They burst into tears (to) know they aren’t alone. This is real, and it’s not in their head…It’s frustrating for the people who have it.”
He added that this virus varies from person to person and that long COVID is different for everyone diagnosed, meaning post-recovery care can range from one clinic visit to an indeterminate amount of time.
“I give a lot of credit to our rehab team,” said Dr. Korrey Klein, president and chief executive officer of Family Health West, which operates Colorado Canyons Hospital and nearly 35 clinics. “We do a lot of rehabilitation anyway, and a lot of the chronic problems need the specialists we have…If you feel like you didn’t get over [COVID], it’s worth a visit. There are things we can do.”
Hollis recommended people seek medical care if symptoms worsen or aren’t generally improving after 10 days.
The clinic is open 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday and can be reached at 970-200-1511. Prospective patients do not need to be Mesa County residents. All major insurances are accepted and no physician referral is required.
The only requirements are that patients need to be 20 days or more from hospital discharge and/or three weeks out from a positive test. Patients must also be fever-free without the use of fever-reducing medication.
Lofholm has seen massive improvements since seeking help at the COVID Recovery Clinic, though she still has to be careful not to over-exert herself.
“A month after I had COVID, I couldn’t even walk a few blocks,” said Lofholm. “I’d get dizzy and have to sit down. I’m way better now. I’m out walking the dogs a couple miles a day and get on my bike and ride five miles.”
Lofholm has since received her booster shot and looks forward to a full recovery. She’s confident it will happen.
“I feel kind of guilty as a poster child for long COVID because mine is so much better than what I’m seeing other people going through,” she said.
A new COVID treatment
Have you been diagnosed with or exposed to COVID and worried about serious infection? The Mesa County Health Department in conjunction with Family Health West has opened a Monoclonal Antibody Therapy Treatment Clinic located at 401 Kokopelli Blvd., Fruita. Monoclonal antibodies are a substitute for the natural antibodies the body produces after vaccination or being exposed to COVID.
The treatment—which involves four injections followed by an hour of monitoring—is aimed at those most at-risk of developing severe illness from COVID including: individuals aged 65 and older, those who are obese or overweight, pregnant women, and persons with underlying medical conditions. Unfortunately, those who use supplemental oxygen for COVID do not qualify for this treatment.
The treatment needs to be administered within 10 days of receiving a positive COVID-19 test or experiencing symptoms. Ideally, patients will test at the first sign of showing symptoms and seek treatment. Colorado Canyons Hospital is also offering monoclonal antibody treatments on Wednesdays, intravenously.
The newly opened clinic in Fruita is open by appointment only, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. every day except Wednesday. Appointments can be made at https://scheduling.mesacounty
health.com, where you can also schedule vaccinations and boosters.
Vaccines still remain the primary way the local public health department urges people to fight COVID, particularly the most serious cases. Stefany Busch, spokeswoman for the Mesa County Public Health Department, called it the difference between being proactive and reactive. Vaccines are proactive whereas monoclonal antibodies are reactive.
Additionally, synthetic monoclonal antibodies do not provide long-term immunity.
“This does not stimulate an immune response. This helps you for a short period of time,” advised Family Health West president Klein.
The treatment has been given Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. Locally, the clinic is funded federally and staffed via support from the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment.
If booking online appointments is not possible, call 970-248-6900 for assistance or visit the health department offices at 510 29 ½ Road, Grand Junction.
How to recover from COVID at homeNot everyone diagnosed with COVID will suffer severe symptoms. If you’re able to recover at home, Nikos Hollis, nurse practitioner at Colorado Canyons Hospital’s COVID Recovery Clinic, offered these suggestions:
1. Get enough rest. People may sleep 14 hours a day or more. Don’t try to do too much.
2. Stay hydrated with lots of fluids.
3. Seek medical care if symptoms worsen or you aren’t generally improving after 10 days.