Life regained after Long COVID with help from therapy program

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Being diagnosed with COVID-19 can mean so many different things. Some may have major health problems resulting in hospitalization or even death, while others may not have any symptoms. What can be equally difficult to predict, and devastating for those going through it, is being diagnosed with COVID long weeks after a person’s initial infection.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – Being diagnosed with COVID-19 can mean so many different things. Some may have major health problems resulting in hospitalization or even death, while others may not have any symptoms. What can be equally difficult to predict, and devastating for those going through it, is being diagnosed with COVID long weeks after a person’s initial infection.

We now know that no matter what level of severity a person may have with their initial infection or general health, all have the potential to be afflicted by Long COVID. The frustrating thing is that long COVID conditions can present as different types and combinations of health conditions for different durations.

Aron Chalou of Près Isle is one of those who know this frustration all too well. A registered nurse and mother of two, she was a healthy, active woman when she was diagnosed with COVID-19 in July 2021. Ten weeks after contracting COVID-19, she was still showing symptoms.

“After the acute phase of my COVID infection, I was not getting better and in many ways my condition was getting worse. I had multiple trips to the ER and to my PCP before I was officially diagnosed with Long COVID. I was diagnosed at the COVID clinic at Mercy Hospital. At that time I had started outpatient physical and speech therapy at AR Gould. The clinic told me therapy was my best option for recovery, but warned it could take up to two years before I get back to my base level,” Chalou said.

Chalou’s symptoms included “brain fog” or confusion, dizziness, migraines, insomnia, physical weakness, loss of balance, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure and fatigue. extreme.

She worked closely with Rachel Emery, physical therapist at AR Gould Hospital, as well as speech therapists Anthony Briscoe and Kayla Trask, to help her recover from her long COVID symptoms. The therapy is part of the new COVID Long Recovery Program offered by Northern Light AR Gould Hospital. Chalou was one of the first patients treated under the program.

“When COVID-19 first hit Aroostook County, we quickly implemented technology and treatment techniques to help our hospitalized patients,” said Heather Caron, manager of rehabilitation therapy programs for inpatients and outpatients of AR Gould. “However, our therapy team had friends and family members who were impacted by COVID and saw firsthand the gap in services between their hospital stay and their return to a fully functional life after recovery. . We quickly realized that hospitalized patients were only a portion of the overall COVID population that needed additional services.

The therapeutic team has developed a multidisciplinary approach to recovery. The core team includes a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist and a speech therapist. Other specialty areas are brought in as needed, such as respiratory therapy, pulmonology, neurology, cardiology, psychology, and others depending on a patient’s specific needs.

Working with Aron was an eye-opening experience. After the first treatment session, it became clear that the core exercises were too much for her to tolerate, and I had to completely change my treatment approach,” Emery explained. “Aron and I had to reduce treatment techniques to coordinating her breathing, then coordinating her breathing with body movements, until she could tolerate even the most basic exercises. All of this was done in a dimly lit room, with noise reduction.

Since beginning to work with Long COVID patients like Chalou, Emery has learned that each patient requires different treatments.

“One thing that became obvious right away is that no two Long COVID patients are alike. All treatment plans must be highly individualized to be successful and can range from the most basic breathing exercises to more complex cardiovascular conditioning, vestibular management, strength training and more,” she said.

Chalou documented his journey via Facebook. She would explain the good days and the bad days, how difficult it was for her to be a patient and not a provider while going to rehab two days a week and many other things.

“I first posted about COVD on my social media because it seemed like the quickest way to let everyone know why I had ‘disappeared’ from normal life. I was surprised to receiving dozens of private messages from people thanking me for sharing my experience. So many people expressed their embarrassment and shame at having COVID themselves, which made me incredibly sad. I thought if I continued to posting publicly it would help put a face and a name to the reality of COVID in our community. I was hoping this might help someone pause before saying something hurtful and provide support for someone who was suffering. I met some amazing people through these posts,” she said.

Aron graduated from the Long COVID Recovery program at the end of May and continues to improve and regain the life she thought she would never have again.

“My symptoms continue to improve. I recently celebrated the first anniversary of my first COVID infection; I feel like the strong, independent, intelligent woman I was before COVID. In some ways, I am stronger than ever as I continue to take on each new challenge one breath at a time,” Chalou said.

Those who think they may be suffering from Long COVID can ask their primary care provider for a referral for an evaluation by the Long COVID Recovery program therapists. The team will assess the patient’s medical and COVID history; screening for emotional, psychological and cognitive disorders; and assess physical impairments and their relationship to activities of daily living. Based on the results, they develop an individualized treatment plan and determine if further referrals are needed.

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