8 months since testing positive, COVID-19 'long-hauler' describes the daily struggle

GARNER, N.C. (WTVD) -- Eight months since he tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, Martin Taylor is literally taking life one step at a time.

"When I first took my step it took like 10 minute to take one step, and once I did that I was out of breath. I had to lay back down," Taylor said.

Last fall, Taylor was on life support for more than two months and in the hospital for nearly six months. He's been home since December, but his recovery is far from over.

"It's just a challenge with him, holding on, going one day at a time," said his wife, Eugenia Taylor. "It's a mental challenge."

Taylor goes to physical therapy twice a week to retrain his body to perform everyday tasks. His other symptoms include breathing problems and a dry cough; he carries an oxygen tank. While he needed 10 liters of oxygen at one point, he's now down to three.

Taylor added his symptoms are not only physical but mental as well.

"If I sit down and think about it, that's when the depression starts to really hit," Martin said. "Why? What happened? Why did it happen?"

Dr. John Michael Baratta, an assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at UNC, said depression is one of many common symptoms he's seen in patients known as "COVID-19 long haulers" -- people who have symptoms related to their COVID-19 diagnosis more than four weeks after infection.

"I've seen some people who developed COVID as part of that first wave in March 2020 and they're struggling with ongoing issues now a year out when they didn't even have to be hospitalized in the first place," Baratta said.

While Baratta said the symptoms vary, some of the most common include fatigue, brain fog, difficulties with attention and memory, shortness of breath, headaches, muscle aches, depression and anxiety.

"It's been surprising to me that this syndrome is so variable," Baratta said. "It can affect different people in such wildly different ways."

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Baratta works at one of the few specialized clinics for COVID long haulers in the state. His clinic opened in February and has seen about 50 patients in the last month, with a lot more interest since then.

And since the disease itself presents in such a varied manner, the treatments Baratta and his colleagues employ are myriad and include medical treatments, occupational and physical therapy, cognitive assessments and mental health evaluations with referrals to a therapist or psychiatrist if necessary.

"COVID has touched a number of different aspects of these survivors' lives and so we need to be comprehensive about how we approach the situation," Baratta said.

And while it may seem that COVID-19 has plagued North Carolina for ages, it's still a very new disease, which also means that understanding treatment options is limited.

In the meantime, Taylor continues to remain hopeful and put his trust in his family, his doctors and God. He said he's looking forward to the day when he no longer needs oxygen and can take his children on a vacation.
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