COVID-19 leads to numerous local long-haul patients |

COVID-19 leads to numerous local long-haul patients

Yampa resident Noah Symons, 11, poses with his dog Lefty. Symons is one of many long-haul COVID-19 patients in Routt County.
Sheila Symons/Courtesy photo

Sixth-grader Noah Symons is normally a healthy and active Routt County kid. He first learned to ski at age 4 and now skis black runs with his dad. He plays multiple sports, likes to compete in the 100-yard dash and play video games.

Unfortunately, Noah, who lives in Yampa, is in his sixth week of missing school this year and is still recuperating from painful side effects stemming from a case of COVID-19 in early September, before a vaccine was approved for 11-year-olds. After dealing with an initial mild case of COVID-19 for two weeks, Noah started to feel better. Then in mid-October he began experiencing burning pain in the palms of his hands and soles of his feet. He spent five days at Children’s Hospital Colorado in early November undergoing extensive testing, said mom Sheila Symons.

For weeks, Noah has dealt with the intense burning pain as doctors believe his nerves are reacting to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Doctors at Children’s Hospital consulted with doctors at other hospitals to verify the pain was a symptom found in other children dealing with long-haul COVID-19.

On Sunday, Noah said he was feeling “not great right now.” His uncle Bruce Kilhefener, who lives in Stagecoach, is a retired teacher and spends several hours helping Noah with school work during the middle of the day when Noah feels the best.

Noah said he wants to tell everyone, “Get the vaccine, so they don’t get COVID.”

A study by FAIR Health, an independent nonprofit that collects data for and manages the nation’s largest database of privately billed health insurance claims, completed a study in June tracking the insurance records of almost 2 million people in the U.S. of all ages who contracted the coronavirus in 2020. The study found that with one month or more after COVID-19 infection, 23% of patients sought medical treatment for new conditions they had not been diagnosed with before COVID-19.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, “Post-COVID conditions are a wide range of new, returning or ongoing health problems people can experience four or more weeks after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. Even people who did not have COVID-19 symptoms in the days or weeks after they were infected can have post-COVID conditions.”

People commonly report experiencing different combinations of symptoms such as: difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; tiredness or fatigue; symptoms that worsen after physical or mental activities; difficulty thinking or concentrating; cough; chest or stomach pain; headache; fast-beating or pounding heart; feeling of pins and needles; diarrhea; sleep problems; fever; dizziness upon standing; rash; mood changes; and changes in smell or taste.

The CDC notes, “Although post-COVID conditions appear to be less common in children and adolescents than in adults, long-term effects after COVID-19 do occur in children and adolescents.”

Sheila Symons, along with Dr. Barbara Novotny, medical director, and Ken Rogers, manager of South Routt Medical Center, spoke at the South Routt School District meeting Nov. 16 asking the board to consider a mask requirement. The board declined to do so.

“I’m trying to help one other parent that if this happens to them, their kid will not have to go through this,” Symons noted. “If getting vaccinated will help, and a mask will help, you may not have to be in the same situation we are in with our son. When Noah had a mild case, we had no idea we would be in this situation months later.”

Rogers said this week that South Routt Medical Center has seen “dozens of adult patients with long-hauler symptoms,” including a patient who lost taste and smell for more than a year. Rogers said all of those long-haul patients were referred to specialists to address specific issues, such as to a cardiologist, pulmonologist and urologist.

South Routt Medical Center patients, such as Chris Mraz, 50, of Oak Creek, and Betsy Whitmore, 48, of Routt County, are some of those COVID long-haulers.

Now 10 months from his initial COVID-19 diagnosis in January, Mraz is trying to go back to work full time after working only part time due to serious fatigue, brain fog and lightheadedness. Mraz said he is on multiple medications after doctors diagnosed chronic heart failure.

“It’s just extremely difficult mentally and physically to be sick for so long and not be able to do much about it,” Mraz said. “I’m still learning what I can and cannot do physically.”

Whitmore, a dental assistant, has not been back to work since her COVID-19 diagnosis in early March. She said she suffered from a moderate fever for seven weeks. COVID-19 brought on new health issues, such as severe fatigue and brain fog, and exacerbated her other existing health conditions.

Steamboat Springs pediatrician Dr. Dana Fitzgerald said in an online Steamboat Pilot & Today Town Hall in early November, “We are seeing in the community cases of kids dealing with long-COVID symptoms (who) still have issues months later for a variety of different reasons. From a provider standpoint, it’s a really tragic thing to see.”

Fitzgerald said Monday some other local children with long-haul COVID were referred to Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora. Fitzgerald also pointed to national statistics that show COVID-positive pregnant mothers are at greater risk of preterm births.

Fitzgerald said Pediatrics of Steamboat Springs has seen a “good uptick” from families with children seeking the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We’ve seen a strong interest of families in our practice getting kids vaccinated,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m happy with where we are at. Our way out of this pandemic is the vaccines.”

Symons believes not enough South Routt parents are taking the COVID-19 threat and testing seriously. She said when her son Noah left Children’s Hospital, he was crying due to the pain.

“What he said to me when we left was, ‘They are supposed to fix me, Mom; why am I still hurting worse than when I got here?’” Symons said.

“We didn’t expect my healthy son to ever feel this way,” Symons added. “It’s the most heartbreaking thing to not be able to take pain from a child.”

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