COVID-19 long-haulers struggle with symptoms, life changes

Coronavirus

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — With daily COVID-19 case numbers in Michigan reaching new levels, doctors are working to learn more about the long-haul impact the virus can have on some survivors.

Brian Kostus from Rockford is a long-hauler now receiving treatment through an outpatient program at Mary Free Bed in Grand Rapids.

He was diagnosed in early November 2020, and was put into a medically induced coma in the ICU through Thanksgiving. His family prepared to say their final goodbyes.

“My wife had the priest come in and do like a blessing, and then they quickly had him do the last rites because I was gonna die,” Kostus said. “Then all the sudden, after eight days I drastically improved.”

Kostus still has severe pain in his left arm, difficulty breathing at times, and can often struggle to remember details in what many survivors call “brain fog.”

“I just kind of pause and then I forget, you know, what I was gonna say and that’s really challenging because I pride myself on my recall,” Kostus said.

Dr. Nadeem Mirza, a psychiatrist with Bronson Healthcare, is seeing many lasting impacts on his patients who had COVID-19.

“An increased amount of cognitive deficits, patients who have dementia, they have shown more decline. There’s depression and anxiety,” Mirza said.

He says doctors are just in the beginning stages of learning about COVID-19 long-haulers.

“There is data that shows that it does have an impact on the brain,” Mirza said. “When you lose your sense of smell or taste to changes in cognition.”

Documentary filmmaker Laura Swanson and her nonprofit Creative Embers is partnering with the Longhauler Advocacy Project to bring awareness to the challenges survivors can face through the Michigan COVID 19 project.

“It’s been incredibly emotional to see how this is affecting so many people and their families throughout the state of Michigan. There’s a lot of grief and loss that’s happening,” Swanson said.

The project aims to elevate survivors’ voices and get them the support they need from medical treatment to financial assistance.

“There’s people that lost their job, are unable to work and are fighting for the disability rights,” Swanson said.

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