COVID-19 'long-haulers' struggle with debilitating symptoms long after infection

Officials change COVID testing advice, bewildering experts
Posted at 8:00 PM, Nov 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-17 09:16:42-05

DENVER -- Ty Godwin suffers from numerous symptoms related to COVID-19.

"Flu symptoms, brain fog is a real thing, body aches, crazy neurological symptoms," explained Godwin while discussing his condition. "I keep thinking tomorrow it will be better, or next week it will be better."

Although he is suffering from the symptoms, he no longer has the novel coronavirus in his system. In fact, he believes he contracted the disease in January.

"What most people have is a sick day, I have had that for 10 months," he said. "Not everybody has long-haul symptoms. I drew the short straw."

One of the first people in Colorado to be infected with COVID-19, Godwin has also been suffering with it the longest.

"The last time I went for a run was in May," Godwin explained. "And I realized then, I can't run a mile."

There are thousands like Godwin, suffering from symptoms of the coronavirus long after they've had the disease. Scientists and doctors call them "COVID-19 long-haulers" because their symptoms remain for a long time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says as many as 35% of coronavirus patients suffer some form of long-term symptoms after the infection abates. The lingering symptoms can range from loss of smell or taste to exhaustion. In rare cases, the symptoms remain for months.

"I have had at least four EKG’s, at least four CAT scans, a full-body PET scan, and medically, there is nothing wrong with any part of my body," said Godwin. "The infectious disease doctor eliminated everything on his list."

Doctors at the Respiratory Recovery Post-COVID-19 Clinic at National Jewish Hospital in Denver are searching for answers. Researchers have seen hundreds of patients from across the country in search of clues as to why some people do not recover.

"There are almost two populations of patients," explained Dr. Nir Goldstein, a pulmonologist with the research team at National Jewish Hospital. "From a scientific perspective or basic research perspective, we really don't know why it happens in some people and not in others."

Because SARS-CoV- 2 is such a new virus, there is little medical literature about how it affects humans.

"We have nine months' worth of data. There's a lot that's unknown," said Goldstein. "There are no quick answers from our end, particularly on sort of long-term symptoms."

Patients like Godwin, struggling with the long-term effects of coronavirus, have formed support groups online. Though they offer little scientific medical solutions, they are a way to reach out to others suffering as well. One group, SurvivorCorps, has thousands of community members.

"There are tons of stories of people just like me that got this in December, January, February, and then are dealing with the ravages long-term," Godwin said.

As the scientists and doctors work to find a remedy, Godwin wonders when life will return to normal.

"I keep thinking tomorrow it will be better, or next week it will be better. But it has held strong," he lamented. "So, I have grave concerns that I am going to deal with this for a long time."