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YOUR HEALTH: COVID's long lasting effects

New therapies for the sickest COVID patients help them get back on their feet faster

DENVER — Doctors say many of the more serious COVID cases are having a long-lasting impact on patients.

It's especially true for the growing number of people in need of ventilators to help them breathe.

But any patient who receives ICU-level care may develop ICU-related weakness, which can damage the nerves and muscles in the body. 

They may have weakness in their lower legs and/or hands and fingers, which makes walking difficult, as well as activities of daily living, like getting dressed and showering.

Also, a good number of covid icu patients are dealing with delirium... the after effects of prolonged use of as ventilator.

Some call it "brain fog".

"It was like the flu on steroids," said COVID patient Clarence Troutman.

"I could not draw in any air whatsoever."

Living a month on a ventilator, Clarence Troutman is now COVID-free, but he knows surviving the disease was just the beginning.

"It was almost in some ways like being a newborn baby."

Doctors are seeing similar stories in hospitals across the country.

"There's a lot of retraining, strengthening, and a whole process to get people back to living their lives," said Dr. William Niehaus of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation program at the University of Colorado Hospital.

And every patient may need a different level of rehabilitation.

"It just, really took a lot of intensive rehab," explained physical therapist Kat Aksamit.

Doctors found that many patients need a team of therapists to relearn how to walk, talk, and even problem solve, as the disease attacks every organ from the lungs to the heart to the brain.

"Being on a ventilator for an extended period of time causes muscle wasting, it affects multiple organ systems," said Dr. Niehaus.

If you know someone who went through the worst of this virus, understand that their healing is not over yet.

A recent study showed a majority of survivors had inflammation in the heart which can lead to cardiac disease and heart failure. strokes are also a growing concern.

"We're seeing a lot of neurologic damage with people that have had COVID disease and a lot of blood clots," said Dr. Niehaus.

University of Colorado Hospital was one of the first facilities to begin actively rehabbing patients that are still COVID positive. 

Clarence started his rehab just three days after being off the ventilator.

"We had to kind of bring everything back a step at a time."

And it's taken five months to get where he's at now.

"Things are coming around slowly but surely."

Hospitals around the country are revamping their rehab procedures by evaluating patients daily, revising how much rehab patients can handle. 

Working virtually, and some hospitals are using biocontainment units to keep patients from spreading contaminated air.

Some patients also need psychological care to help them cope with their life after COVID-19. 

There is also a psychological adjustment as COVID ICU care can contribute to anxiety, depression, and post traumatic type response. 

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.