MILWAUKEE — As some people may take weeks or months to recover from COVID-19 symptoms, local providers set up a new clinic dedicated to helping patients improve.
These patients are called "long-haulers."
"It’s like, it’s just so slow. It’s like I've never experienced that before, so you know it gets scary," said Josh Bucio.
Josh tested positive for COVID-19 in early October. He said it was the sickest he has ever felt in his life and the worst symptoms were fevers and shortness of breath.
Just as he was starting to feel normal, Josh said he felt sick again then came weeks of lingering symptoms.
"I had like a cough. I had pain in my chest, back area. Fatigue was a big one," Josh recalled. "I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of things around the house even without being very fatigued or shortness of breath. For a couple of months, I definitely felt that way."
While facing lots of questions, anxiety, tests, and medications Josh found some comfort in social media, where other people shared prolonged symptoms after contracting COVID-19. That was when Josh learned about and reached out to Ascension Medical Group Wisconsin's new Post-Acute COVID Care clinic in Oak Creek, a place dedicated to helping patients struggling with persistent symptoms.
"16 and up has been what we’ve seen so far, and there isn’t really a whole lot of other well-defined characteristics about who these people are that have symptoms that last longer," said Dr. Erin O'Tool, family medicine physician with Ascension Medical Group Wisconsin.
Dr. O'Tool explained that in addition to a wide range of patients reporting prolonged issues, there are a couple of hundred symptoms long haulers might face making, it a challenge to treat.
The most common symptoms he has seen are fatigue, loss of stamina, shortness of breath, chest burning, chest pain, or headaches.
Dr. O'Tool noted a lot of these people were never hospitalized with COVID-19.
"It is a struggle because I wish I had a whole book of answers that I could give to people when they see me, and that’s just unfortunately not the case because so many cases are just so different," said Dr. O'Tool.
However, there is good news.
"People are recovering. The people that I have seen have had good outcomes and I think what we’re offering is providing people some opportunity for improvement," said Dr. O'Tool.
More than three months since contracting the virus and with the help of specialists, Josh is starting to feel more like himself.
"I want other people to know that there’s a lot of people like me out there and to not lose hope," said Josh.
Dr. O'Tool said the latest statistics show 10 to 20 percent of people who were infected with COVID-19 are going to have lingering symptoms lasting more than eight weeks. Their team is working to open additional clinics in the Milwaukee area.