Regaining Lives, Restoring Hope After COVID-19

The director of sales operations for a major beverage retailer, Joy Ezekiel-Gibson is a professed lover of high-heel shoes, “nothing shorter than a 4-inch heel.”

But after catching COVID-19 in mid-March 2020 and two subsequent stays in the hospital, Joy has been forced to switch to sneakers. More than a year later, she sometimes needs supplemental oxygen, can have trouble walking, and suffers from fatigue.

Compared to recovering from the flu, “Multiply that by 10, and that’s how I feel on a daily basis,” she said. “My legs don’t hurt as much, but I don’t have the energy.”

Joy is one of an estimated 30% of people with COVID-19 who go on to become “long-haulers,” experiencing persistent symptoms weeks or months after the infection has cleared. Earlier this year, Virtua Health launched Care After COVID, an evaluation and recovery program for people like Joy still dealing with the physical and emotional effects of the coronavirus.

“In some people, their COVID-19 symptoms just do not go away,” said Virtua pulmonologist Eric Sztejman, MD, Joy's doctor. “Individuals have lung scarring, blood clots, fatigue, shortness of breath, and neurologic problems. They need our help.”

Connecting You to Care
The Care After COVID program is designed to treat people still experiencing lingering symptoms at least 30 days after becoming sick. Care starts with a call to a nurse navigator, who will review your symptoms and set up a full medical evaluation with a physician.

From there, you and your doctor will develop a plan of care, including:

  • An appointment with a social worker to support your emotional well-being
  • Blood work
  • Physical therapy or rehabilitation
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Referral to a specialist in primary care, cardiology, pulmonology, neurology, or ear, nose, and throat

If you are already seeing a doctor, we will work with them to coordinate your care and the resources you need.

Understanding Your Symptoms
Long-haul symptoms vary. They include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Brain fog (being unusually forgetful, confused, or unable to concentrate)
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle pain
  • Chest pain/discomfort
  • Heart rhythm problems
  • Loss of taste and/or smell
  • Depression and/or anxiety

“This is not a one-size-fits-all condition. “Some people feel like they’re just not quite right,” said Dr. Sztejman. “It’s important for us to see these patients and evaluate their symptoms.”

Joy says she can breathe normally while sitting, but often needs supplemental oxygen during other activities. She carries an oxygen tank in a backpack during daily walks and trips to the store, where she holds onto the cart for extra balance.

“I will plan to be at the store by 7 and then be out by 8:15,” said Joy, of Atco. “I want to feel like I’m doing something, along with being independent.”

Joy said the COVID-19 vaccinations she received in February lessened the pain in her legs and improved her condition. She hopes to return to work someday, but knows she has a long road ahead and treatment with her medical team.

“I don’t know if I’m ever going to be back to normal. I call it my new normal,” she said. “You just have to embrace it and be grateful. I’m not one of the more than 500,000 people who aren’t here to tell their story.”

COVID Can Be Persistent. Luckily, So Are We
Our dedicated team of specialists will help relieve your lingering COVID-19 symptoms. Contact a navigator at 856-325-3200 or visit our Care After COVID program page to learn more.

Updated June 2, 2021

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