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'A whole new focus.' VUMC now trying to help COVID-19 long haulers with lingering symptoms

Post-Acute COVID Clinic now open
VUMC vanderbilt
Posted at 6:17 PM, May 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-27 21:50:47-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — One of the only clinics in the country taking COVID-19 long-haulers is at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The Adult Post-Acute COVID Clinic opened in March. So far, more than 50 patients have been seen by doctors.

"We've had several really healthy people who can't get through normal activities without feeling like everything has been taken out of them," explained Dr. Cecelia Theobald, Vice Chair for Clinical Affairs at VUMC.

Exercise intolerance and brain fog are two of the biggest clues someone is suffering from Long COVID, according to the doctor. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, joint pain and a persistent cough. However, doctors are finding every person experiences something different.

"For every patient, I've seen there has been an individually different story," Dr. Theobald said.

Frank Ziegler is a patient at the clinic. He tested positive for COVID-19 back in January and is feeling worse now than he did in quarantine.

"I don't know anybody else who is having the same degree of symptoms or number of symptoms or post symptoms that I'm having," Ziegler said.

By talking to the doctors he's learned others are in similar situations and researchers are trying to help all of them.

"This is a whole new focus and it's moving at light speed," Ziegler said.

Ziegler is meeting with a physical therapist. Even the slightest of improvements are making him feel better. After his bout with the virus, he only regained about 50% of his sense of smell, has not had a regular appetite, experiences hand tremors and is fatigued.

"Simple tasks [like] vacuuming the house, changing the bed. I get tired and that's just not me," he said.

While doctors admit there isn't a cure-all for Long COVID, which is what the symptoms that last weeks or months after first being infected with the virus is called, they are doing their best to create coordinated care plans for patients. Some have been sent to specialists, like physical therapists or cardiologists, and are having success.

"I think there are some that are transitioning out of needing the acute clinic," Dr. Theobald said.

Dr. Theobald said patients are aware that it may take a couple of tries before they feel better, but that can still be frustrating.

"It's really distressing to people," she said.

Despite that, Ziegler encourages people to call the clinic if they are still unwell. It's at least given him a sense of community.

"I didn't think I was the only one, that didn't make any sense, but I don't know anybody who has the exact or close to these symptoms for this long, I mean it's been 4-5 months," he shared.

To schedule an appointment, call 888-312-0847. Services are billed to insurance and may require a co-pay depending on your plan.