'This is life-changing': Month after hospitalization, Moore Co. man struggles with long-haul COVID

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- About eight months after being hospitalized with COVID-19, Tony Marks is still dealing with lingering symptoms.

"My only improvement after physical therapy is being able to walk," said Marks on Friday, after a short walk from the parking lot to a picnic table for an interview.

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Marks was hospitalized twice after testing positive; at the time, he was not eligible for the vaccine.

"I would have considered myself to be one of the anti-vaxxers. You were not going to stick a needle in me for something that I don't know what's in it. Laying in the hospital bed, basically, 2 1/2 to 3 weeks later, I was begging my doctor 'can you please vaccinate me now,'" Marks recalled.

Despite eventually being able to get out of the hospital, Marks said he still felt off about a month later. He continues to face a number of aftereffects -- the list so long that he has to write them down to remember them all, in part because memory loss itself is a symptom.

"I can tell you that I am struggling and have issues with memories and forgetting things. And a lot of times when people with long COVID talk about that, the people that they're talking to will kind of blow it off and say 'yeah I have memory issues myself.' but we all will guarantee that you're not going through what we're going through. Long COVID is an incredibly difficult thing," said Marks.

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He listed depression, anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain and spasms, dizziness, facial numbness, amongst others as ailments he faces on a daily basis.

For Marks, his condition has had both personal and professional ramifications, including leading him to ask for a smaller role at work as he manages his symptoms.

"Recently, my oldest son got married. And at the reception, I was constantly having to get up and walk out of his reception because of the noise and the number of people," said Marks.

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Outside of his work with a physical therapist, he's also meeting with a speech pathologist and is seeking care from the UNC COVID Recovery Clinic.

"Every week, the interest in our clinic and referrals to our clinic steadily increase. We have increased staffing to our clinic to try and meet that demand," said Dr. John Baratta, the founder and co-director of the clinic.

Long-haul COVID is classified as experiencing symptoms for at least a month after infection, though in many cases it's during a much longer period.

"The data also shows that people who were more severely ill at the time of the initial infection are more likely to have lingering effects such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and brain fog," said Baratta.

They're working with patients of all ages and backgrounds, though women are being referred to the clinic about twice as often as men.

"Anyone who has a COVID infection can potentially be a long hauler. And recent studies have shown that perhaps 10-30% of people who survive COVID infection may have some degree of persistent symptoms or health effects," said Baratta.
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