Mike Berry, his wife Kari, and their four kids contracted COVID-19 in January. Mike, who was active with no underlying conditions, suffered severe symptoms and nearly lost his life.
“I woke up in the hospital with a body that didn’t function anymore,” Mike said. “I had to learn how to breathe, walk, stand, sit. All the things we take for granted. My main goal through it all was to be back with my family.”
Eight months later, he’s still fighting to get better.
“My life now revolves around physical therapy and kidney dialysis three times a week,” Mike said. “Any activity, even talking, makes it difficult for me to breathe. I'm on oxygen 24/7. The longest lasting effects have been kidney failure, which I’m in right now, and lung damage.”
“We don't want to have to see others go through the same thing,” said Keri, Mike’s wife. “Just because you’re lucky enough to survive COVID-19, doesn’t mean it’s over. Our lives are forever changed.”
We spoke with a young woman named Abigail who decided to speak out for the same reason.
“I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” Abigail said.
Abigail works in healthcare and contracted COVID-19 in March of 2020. Her case was much less severe, but like Mike, she still suffers from persistent side effects of the virus, months after beating it.
“I slowly started to notice my functioning kept worsening,” Abigail said. “The new phase of this has been debilitating migraines. For me, the aftereffects have been worse than the actual virus.”
These COVID-19 survivors with lingering symptoms are known as “long-haulers.”
According to a study from the University of Washington, more than one in four COVID-19 patients are long-haulers.
Some of the most common long-haul COVID-19 systems are breathing difficulties, extreme fatigue, brain fog, and kidney problems. But doctors say people have also reported digestion issues, hair loss, heart problems, anxiety, and depression.
Abigail has found some help through a program at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin called the “Post-Covid Multi-Specialty Clinic,” which is seeing a lot of these long haulers.
Dr. Rahul Nanchal, who is a critical care provider in the Intensive Care Unit, is among those leading the clinic.
“This is the first time in a very long time we’ve seen a new infectious disease that has affected millions of people in such a short amount of time,” said Dr. Nanchal. “We are charting a new course in all of this and are trying to provide care as best we can. People are suffering from these long-term symptoms. It’s affecting their quality of life. The more we endeavor to monitor them, and help them, the faster we can find solutions.”