WAUWATOSA, Wis.— Dan Storey recovered from COVID-19 in August. His road to feeling like himself again, however, is a long one.
“Before I had COVID, I could run seven to 10 miles without a problem,” he said. “After I started to feel better, I would go for a run and get about a quarter-mile and couldn’t get enough oxygen and I’d feel dizzy and see stars.”
The marathon finisher now has another title: COVID long-hauler. Since his final negative test back in August, Dan has struggled with some of the most common long-term symptoms affecting survivors such as shortness of breath, brain fog, and fatigue.
His two daughters and wife also had the virus.
“You have absolutely no clue how this is going to affect you long-term and I think my husband is a prime example of why you should avoid it at all costs,” said Dan’s wife, Kim.
Dan is experiencing COVID Long-Haul Syndrome, a term healthcare professionals are now using to describe it.
Dr. Michael Dolan has practiced internal medicine for decades. He works for Gundersen Health System and sees a high number of patients going through this.
“Common symptoms are shortness of breath, chest tightness, fatigue, fevers, chills, night sweats,” he said. “A lot of people have this cognitive fog they live in like their brain doesn’t want to work.”
The majority of his patients have recovered their loss of taste and smell quickly. Other symptoms, however, can last weeks to months. In fact, roughly 50% to 60% of survivors nationally are in this category.
“It’s just starting to gain some attention,” he said. “When you actually do the cognitive testing on people post-COVID, you see about 50% experience a decline in their cognitive function.”
Dan also adds that his experience with the actual virus was mild. It’s a point Dr. Dolan also wants to stress.
“This is not just the people admitted to the ICU,” Dr. Dolan said. “We’re talking about people with mild symptoms who have recovered, but six weeks later can’t process things like they could prior to COVID.”
Dan’s most frightening diagnosis came just over a month ago. He thought he had merely strained his calf trying to reach something on a top shelf at the grocery store.
“It didn’t look right or feel right as a typical strain, so I went to the ER and went in for an ultrasound,” Dan said. “The doctor came in and asked if I had ever tested positive for COVID and I said ‘yes’ and he said ‘These are symptomatic for what we’re calling COVID clots.”
Dan is now on blood thinners for blood clots in his leg and lungs.
“It was terrifying,” he said. “It’s a clot that could have broken off at any point and potentially killed me.”
Dr. Dolan says he’s seeing this in his patients frequently.
“They can also form in the heart and arteries which can go to the brain and cause a stroke and complicates the cognitive processes even more,” Dr. Dolan said. “We’re seeing a lot of that and there’s a 30% chance if you’re hospitalized, you’ll get blood clots.”
Both Dr. Dolan and Dan stress to follow CDC guidelines concerning wearing masks and physically distancing. Both also say they will get the vaccine.