“Seeing patients regain the energy to live their lives is definitely the best part.”
Coming All the Way Back from COVID-19
The Post-COVID Recovery Program brings together experts in areas from physical therapy to cognitive recovery to create individualized therapies based on the patient’s specific needs.
When Amy Behen received her negative COVID-19 test result, she was excited to move ahead with her life after several weeks of sore throat, nausea and severe fatigue.
“I thought ‘OK, great, here we go—done with COVID,’” says the 43-year-old mother of two.
But her fatigue and shortness of breath never went away and were joined by a new symptom: brain fog. Multitasking, a skill the working mom had perfected, was suddenly impossible. “I couldn’t remember even simple things unless I wrote them down,” she says. “But the worst part was a fatigue so overwhelming that I literally couldn’t move off the couch.”
For some like Behen, a negative COVID-19 test doesn’t mean an end to serious or even debilitating symptoms. Shortness of breath, weakness, pain, mental fogginess, anxiety and other complications continue to plague them for weeks or even months. Helping these individuals fully regain their lives is why Providence St. Jude created the Post-COVID Recovery Program, one of the few programs of its kind in the state.
The multidisciplinary program brings together experts in areas from physical therapy to cognitive recovery to create individualized therapies based on the patient’s specific needs. For Behen, weekly sessions focused on rebuilding her strength and stamina, restoring normal breathing patterns, and regaining mental focus and concentration. Sessions covered the gamut, from working on paced breathing while climbing stairs to practicing staying relaxed while trying to remember multiple instructions.
Shortly after beginning the program, Behen found her fear and anxiety disappearing. But it was during her fourth visit to the St. Jude Centers for Rehabilitation and Wellness that she mentally turned the corner: “For the first time, I knew for certain I was going to come all the way back,” she explains. “The expertise and support my therapists brought to my recovery was amazing: If necessary, they were going to drag me across the finish line.”
Natalia Covarrubias-Eckardt, MD, medical director of the program, says Behen’s symptoms are sometimes seen in those who were hospitalized with COVID-19 as well as those who recovered at home. “The why is not fully known,” she explains. “Some research indicates the ACE2 receptor—which is prevalent in the lungs, heart, blood vessels and GI tract—provides an entry point for the coronavirus. If so, it would explain why so many organ systems are affected, leaving some people unable to walk even short distances or complete simple tasks.”
St. Jude’s Post-COVID Recovery Program draws upon the same expertise that has made the hospital a national leader in areas from cognitive recovery and chronic pain to cancer rehabilitation. “We don’t know of another program in the state that offers this level of comprehensiveness and innovation,” explains Dr. Covarrubias-Eckardt.
Behen says she’s grateful to be off the couch and moving closer every day to her old self. What is she most looking forward to? “Coaching my daughter’s softball team this spring—and I plan to lead the wind sprints.”
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