UVM conducting study on COVID long-haulers

Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 5:41 PM EDT
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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) - One year after the first Vermonters contracted coronavirus, some of those people still feel extremely sick. Now, a team of doctors at the UVM Medical Center is conducting a study to find out why.

“I felt brushed off. I felt like, what I’m feeling isn’t real. And for me, it was very real,” said Abby Rice.

Months after the 45-year-old contracted COVID-19, she says doctors doubted her debilitating symptoms. “‘You sound or look okay on paper, but sorry, you’re not feeling well. It’s probably stress.’” Rice recalls them saying.

She was one of the first Vermonters diagnosed with COVID-19 last March. When the headaches, body pains, and fatigue became so severe, she struggled to instruct her Zumba classes. The Essex Junction woman says life became lackluster and she lost her sense of self. “I went from a really active lifestyle to barely able to take much of a walk,” she said.

When Rice heard the UVM Medical Center was conducting a pulmonary study for people like her, she says she felt it was her responsibility to participate. “Dr. Kaminsky is like the first doctor that I’ve come across that has really seemed empathetic. For me, it was partially just like, ‘Oh my gosh, this man’s amazing. Let me join this study just so I can be a part of what he’s doing,’” she said.

“It’s the nature of what we do in medicine -- is to understand why. So, when people are recovering from COVID, you expect them to fully recover, and they’re not,” said Dr. David Kaminsky, a pulmonary specialist leading UVM’s COVID long hauler study. That’s because the most common symptoms among COVID patients are related to lung function and shortness of breath.

Kaminsky and his team are following 50 long haulers for a full year. Right now, 37 people have signed up to take five types of tests in one session. They’re slated to return for a reassessment six months later. Kaminsky says it’s crucial others understand that the syndrome is a legitimate condition. “It’s one thing to say to someone, ‘Look, please take this seriously because you could die.’ But now we have to think about this. You could get sick and maybe not even be that sick, but you could end up with long-term symptoms. Why for some people is this worse?” To remain unbiased, Kaminsky hasn’t looked at the data in detail yet.

But for patients like Rice, creating a supportive community is worth the wait. “It’s so validating to be able to share an experience with someone and have them say, ‘That happened to me, too,’” she said.

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