Some critical COVID-19 survivors may never fully recover

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Pandemic statistics tell us the number of deaths versus the number of those who have recovered but we don't realize is that the most severe cases can fall somewhere in the middle.

"There are a lot of people caught in between," Wake County physical therapist Kristal Nelson told ABC 11.

Nelson is the founder of the Triangle's Back in Action Physical Therapy. She says the biggest issue for most critical COVID-19 survivors is lung damage. But after weeks in a hospital bed, they've also lost a lot of muscle mass.

"Not only are they having trouble getting oxygen to the muscles but once the oxygen gets there the muscles are very, very deconditioned and have a long way to go in terms of strengthening and endurance," she said.

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Some will never fully recover and have to learn to live with permanently scarred lungs. Nelson said those patients may not be able to create new tissue to make their lungs fully functional.

Hopefully, she said most can get to the point where they do not need supplemental oxygen but that can be a long and difficult journey with physical therapy.

"After their hospital stay, they probably have six to eight weeks for the more severe type recovery process. But it could go on beyond that."

And while leaving the hospital is a milestone to celebrate, it's also the beginning of a stressful time for caregivers according to Nelson.

"That's when real life hits and you've got figure out how to take care of your family member."

She added that just leaving the hospital does not mean the patients can cook for themselves, dress themselves, or even get around the house on their own.

Nelson says she and her staff have been studying up on the needs of COVID-19 patients because she expects they may be seeing plenty of them in the weeks and months to come. And they're prepared to alter their routines because of safety measures that must be followed when a patient has decreased lung function.

"You have to take vitals so frequently during exercise," she said adding that's why Back in Action also offers in-home physical therapy.

So when talking about COVID-19 recovery rates don't forget some may survive but they may also never fully recover.
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