Colorado researchers are gathering data on coronavirus survivors. Here’s what they’ve found. |

Colorado researchers are gathering data on coronavirus survivors. Here’s what they’ve found.

Michael Booth and Jennifer Brown
The Colorado Sun
Registered nurses Krista Kipper-Tomke and Kevin Scorzafava review care protocols for patients with COVID-19. Both are wearing the required personal protective equipment to care for a patient with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 – gown, gloves, N95 mask and eye protection.

Eight months into the coronavirus pandemic, Colorado doctors and scientists have a growing study sample: tens of thousands of people in the state who have survived COVID-19.

Their initial findings are beginning to trickle in, helping piece together the long-term effects of a virus that has killed more than 2,300 Coloradans and infected more than 200,000.

The first long-term study of COVID-19 Colorado survivors, from UCHealth, is finding that about one-third of highly symptomatic patients who survive reported that after six or seven weeks, they were still struggling.

Knowledge about COVID-19 survivors is emerging, too, from new hospital clinics set up specifically to help patients recover from the infection that attacks everything from the lungs to the brain.

National Jewish Hospital has a “respiratory recovery clinic” for COVID survivors, focused not only on physical healing, but also on emotional issues. And at a new post-COVID, out-patient clinic at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, a team of doctors is working with patients recovering from a stay in the ICU, as well as those who never were hospitalized but are “long-haulers,” with symptoms that have persisted for months.

The UCHealth study found that long-term symptoms include brain fog, muscle aches, impaired breathing and blood clots, said Dr. Robert Lam, an emergency medicine specialist at UCHealth Memorial in Colorado Springs who is leading the study. Lam’s team has also noted patients have faintness after standing up, a condition called postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome or POTS.

MORE: These Coloradans survived coronavirus during the first wave. Here’s what they want you to know now.

Lam is employing University of Colorado medical students, locked out of clinical work because of virus precautions, to follow up with a running total of 150 patients who initially sought help for COVID-19 at an ER, clinic or inpatient hospital.

When the pandemic first spread, providers assumed the course of the virus would follow that of pneumonia infections or various versions of the flu, with an acute illness followed by a quick recovery. They expected some COVID-19 patients might need oxygen once home, as pneumonia patients sometimes do, Lam said.

Instead, the ongoing aches and inability to exercise beyond a walk to the mailbox seem to dominate the lives of the long-haulers, Lam said. “This is unique, to see patients still struggling six to seven weeks beyond hospitalization.”

What has surprised providers and the medical students, Lam said, is the high percentage of long-term patients reporting mental health issues after their hospital stays. Patients feel traumatized by the intense isolation required by COVID-19 protocols, by a fear of reinfection, by fear of infecting loved ones and by having to avoid family or work while they are recovering.

“We are hard-wired to connect with people,” Lam said. The results so far reflect other studies showing about 1 in 5 virus recoverers develop a significant mental health condition as a result of their illness.

Read the full article at The Colorado Sun.

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