‘Pretty life-changing’: Some still dealing with long COVID symptoms two years later

SPOKANE, Wash – Two years into the pandemic, researchers and doctors are still trying to figure out the long-term effects of COVID. As they learn more constantly, people are still suffering the effects.

“It’s been pretty life-changing. I haven’t drove for over a year, and lost my career. So, it’s been pretty big,” said Becky Cassel, who caught COVID in February of 2021.

When Cassel caught COVID, she said she had a mild case. Two weeks after catching the virus, she started getting extreme vertigo and had some cognitive issues.

Cassel ended up having a hard time talking, but that eventually got better. She went to multiple doctors, trying to figure out what was wrong. Her doctor ended up diagnosing her with long COVID. She then went to a long COVID clinic in Great Falls, Montana, where she found out she has post-viral vestibular nerve damage.

While Cassel has been diagnosed, Kendra Wellner is still trying to get answers.

Wellner had COVID in late 2020 and had mild to moderate symptoms. She recovered but then caught COVID again in January of this year and slept for three days.

Weeks later, Wellner started having heart palpitations in the middle of the night.

“Where I’d wake up and be unable to breathe. It felt really heavy on my chest,” she said.

Wellner went to the hospital thinking she had a heart attack, but she didn’t. Since then, she’s been getting a bunch of tests done, many of them coming back normal. She believes she has long COVID, but no official diagnosis yet.

“I just want to know what is going on and what is making me every single day feel something different. Some days I’m super dizzy where I can’t even get off the couch,” she said, adding that she needs to take breaks when she walks upstairs, takes showers or even blow-dries her hair.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: A year later, Coeur d’Alene man still dealing with long COVID symptoms; what doctors know about it

Dr. Janna Friedly, the executive director of the University of Washington Center of Post-COVID-19 and Rehabilitation Recovery Clinic, says one of the biggest frustrations she hears from patients is that doctors are not recognizing the symptoms of long COVID.

Friedly said there isn’t a specific test to diagnose long COVID, but there is a way to figure it out, she says.

“The diagnosis is really made based on whether or not somebody has COVID or whether or not somebody has new or worsening symptoms that they did not have before COVID,” she said.

There are more than 200 different symptoms people are reporting with long COVID, she said. The most common are fatigue, brain fog, cognitive issues, headaches and other neurological symptoms.

“A lot of these symptoms we have some understanding of the underlying causes and it does seem to be related to your immune system response and often times related to inflammation or other immune system responses to that initial infection,” she said. “There are some symptoms that are still somewhat puzzling in terms of what the etiology is.”

The American Medical Association estimates that between 10-percent to 30-percent of patients could experience long COVID after getting the virus. Long-haul symptoms can happen to anyone who gets COVID, whether they had a mild or severe case.

One study shows that those with preexisting health conditions could have a higher chance of having long COVID, which both Wellner and Cassel have.

Though long COVID is still not fully understood, Friedly says there is hope for a full recovery. Friedly herself had long COVID, catching the virus in April 2020 and had symptoms for nine months after.

She said it takes a “comprehensive and regimented approach.”

“It often takes six or seven different strategies to help make improvement, but we certainly are seeing lots of patients recovery. Just because you have these post-COVID symptoms doesn’t mean that this is a life sentence,” she said.

While Wellner and Cassel navigate life with long COVID symptoms, they’re hopeful something will change as they try to move forward.

“Everybody has their own battles, but my hope is that we’re not completely forgotten or even that people finally realize that there is this whole community of people that are struggling every day,” Cassel said.

READ: Who really needs a 2nd COVID booster? Here’s what to know

READ: What we know about BA.2 — now the dominant cause of COVID-19 in the US