Doctors study lingering symptoms in COVID-19 long-hauler patients

Posted at 12:46 PM, Sep 23, 2020

As a guy who is typically used to running races and getting dirty, Shawn Stephens was a picture of perfect health. That is until March of this year, when the 53-year-old tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

It was like nothing he’d ever experienced before.

“I’ve never gotten sick,” he said. “I just don’t get sick. That’s why this was such a shock to me.”

This IT consultant, who lives near Detroit, thought that virus would run its course after a few days. To keep his wife and kids safe, Stephens quarantined in the basement of his home. But after a few weeks, he realized he wasn’t getting better.

Six months later, he is still dealing with complications related to COVID-19. The most serious of which is high blood pressure. Prior to having COVID-19, Stephens had no underlying health conditions.

“I now feel like I have to take medicine to stay alive,” he described. “Having blood pressure at my level puts me at high risk for stroke and heart attack. People say this is like the flu. It’s not.”

Stephens has become part of a new kind of COVID-19 patient, the so-called "long-haulers,” people across the country who are suffering from symptoms months after their initial diagnosis.

Dr. Dayna McCarthy, a physician at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, is part of a handful of doctors solely dedicated to figuring out what's happening to COVID-19 long-haulers. Thousands of people who are looking for help are on the hospital's waiting list.

“There are a lot of patients in this country suffering tremendously from this, and they are young patients,” Dr. McCarthy explained.

Some of the symptoms these patients are experiencing months after testing negative for COVID-19 include shortness of breath, chest pain that resembles a heart attack, memory loss issues and severe exhaustion.

A majority of COVID long-haulers being seen at Mt. Sinai Hospital are between the ages of 20 and 40.

“It’s a very vulnerable population, one that didn’t ask for this to happen to them and now can’t get their healthcare needs met,” Dr. McCarthy said.