MILWAUKEE — With COVID cases dropping and restrictions lifting across the country, one group of people are still dealing with the effects of the virus every day: COVID long haulers.
19-year-old Paul Stavrou was a typical teenager enjoying his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee when a day out with friends back in October 2020 changed his life completely.
“Going from being fully active, and you know, being completely healthy, to just not. It's a really difficult transition to make, especially just all of a sudden,” said Paul.
Paul’s mother Mary says he went from a boy who never had any health issues to rushing to the hospital for what felt like an endless list of problems and never knowing what to do.
“When your child is sick, that's all that matters is getting them better. So, it's been really difficult. I mean a day and day out basis to watch your child suffer; it's horrible, it's heartbreaking, it's stressful. All you want to do is help them and find an answer,” said Mary.
After being exposed, Paul got tested the same day and it came back negative.
He says he felt fine through his 14-day quarantine until the very end, when he lost his sense of taste and smell.
Soon after, Paul says the virus progressed from “feeling just like the flu” to going “completely downhill.”
“Things would tend to get worse, such as extreme fatigue, heart palpitations, chest pains, and I’m not really sure how to describe this to someone who's never felt it, but just feeling sickly,” said Paul.
Fifteen months later and Paul is still dealing with the impact of the virus.
Doctors found inflammation in the lining of his heart, as well as issues with his breathing, making it difficult for him to walk long distances without struggling for air.
“I mean, I’ve started to get used to it but it's definitely not something I want to deal with the rest of my life,” said Paul.
After trying to attend in-person classes full time, Paul is now at UWM on a part-time basis, taking two virtual classes a semester. As a film major, he says it’s been tough trying to fulfill his requirements and now, he expects to graduate a year later than he planned.
Still, Paul says he’s in a much better place than he was just a year ago. But he is taking it one day at a time.
“I feel I have more good days now than I used to, but I’m still pretty far from being able to go out and do everything I used to,” said Paul.
Paul says his focus now is trying to get people to understand COVID’s long term impact on people.
He’s hoping to start a support group on campus for other long haulers, as well as anyone who has been impacted by the pandemic, so they know they are not alone.