RICHMOND, Va. -- One year after being hospitalized for COVID-19, a Chesterfield woman said she's still dealing with the aftereffects of the illness.
A study published Tuesday in the journal Lancet Psychiatry reported as many as one in three people infected with COVID-19 have longer-term mental health and neurological symptoms.
Nancy Brown said on April 8, 2020, she began to feel ill after getting home from work. Then woke up more than a month later in Chippenham Hospital.
Brown said there was a period of three days at the hospital where family said she was talking and acting normal -- but she doesn't recall it. She then went on a ventilator for about 30 days.
"The doctor had told my family to go ahead and prepare, she's not going to make it," said Brown.
Brown's younger sister, Vickie Smith-Jenkins, said it was an incredibly difficult time with a lot of uncertainty.
"We had to wait and wait and wait. Sometimes we’d go all day and not know anything," said Smith-Jenkins.
Several months later, in June, Brown said she was finally released from rehab, just in time to celebrate her 60th Birthday.
"And even when I left, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t dress myself. I couldn’t do anything," said Brown.
Now one year later, the former schoolteacher for Intercept Youth Services, said she goes to dialysis three times a week, and experiences anxiety and fatigue.
"My voice is still not back, I can’t work, I’m a teacher and I was helping kids that I love," said Brown. "It’s just normal living that I don’t get to do because my endurance is low, and I just don’t have the energy to do it."
VCU Dr. Wes Shepherd is the Director of Interventional Pulmonology and Professor of Medicine and Pulmonary and Critical Care and sees both ends of the spectrum -- treating patients first diagnosed with COVID as well as patients with long-term symptoms.
"We're still figuring out exactly how many of these patients are going to develop long-term symptoms," said Shepherd. "So, I think a conservative estimate is probably around 10%. But as many as 30% of folks, in some studies, have demonstrated long-term symptoms, whether it's heart-related or lung, or neurologic symptoms."
Dr. Shepherd said it was important to differentiate those who were still recovering from a severe case of COVID and others who had only experienced a mild case but continued to experience symptoms, or develop new ones, months later.
"Having long COVID doesn't necessarily correlate with the severity of illness. So, we've seen a number of patients who had milder symptoms when they were infected, were not even hospitalized, but now they're having a multitude of the symptoms," said Shepherd.
"Right now, we're trying to focus the definition more on patients who are at least three months out from their illness, and have either persistent symptoms, maybe from a milder version of COVID or actually have developed new symptoms different from the ones they had or early on."
Dr. Shepherd said those symptoms may include everything from heart palpitations to shortness of breath, cough, or extreme fatigue -- even depression and anxiety, among others.
"Currently, there's really not a good understanding of who gets long COVID and what the risk factors are for long COVID," said Dr. Shepherd. "There's some anecdotal data suggesting maybe even younger females who had a milder illness are at higher risk of getting long COVID."
For Brown, it's been a long road, but she's not giving up.
"The day I pulled myself up, well we were all in there crying because I had not stood. But I was standing at the chair," said Brown.
A moment that happened a few months after Brown was released from rehab -- and one she recalls quite clearly.
"I have to help myself get up but look! And I can dance!" Brown said as she lifted herself from the chair. "I have to go to dialysis three days a week but that don’t stop (me). The Lord puts a pep in my step."
Brown said she hoped her story inspired others going through difficult times.
"I'm not going to give up. I'm going to keep pressing on, because there is something else for me to do here," said Brown.