Keegan Parrott, of Ames, got sick with COVID nine months ago and still deals with persistent headaches, chest pain and fatigue. He doesn’t have health insurance and hasn’t seen a doctor to determine if he’s suffered permanent organ damage, as other long-haulers have.
“I’ve had a headache for over six months,” Parrot says. “Is that gonna have any issues going forward? Like, am I going to be at higher risk for Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s or things like that? We don’t know.” There is much health care providers don’t know about long-term COVID and the impacts are staggering. While some patients experience mild symptoms, others remain largely bedridden, barely able to walk up a flight of stairs, let alone return to work.
Ben Sponsler, of Ankeny, first got COVID in October and suffered what providers call brain fog, but Sponsler says it’s akin to dementia. “There for a while, I had a hard time completing a sentence,” Sponsler says. “I constantly was asking people like, ‘You know, the…the thing…that does the…the what?’ and everybody’s like, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Sponsler said he’d be at home and find himself wondering, ‘Is this my house?’ and he struggled with basic tasks, even forgetting to eat. That’s on top of his extremely elevated heart rate and blood pressure, and at times debilitating anxiety. About one-third of the patients at the University of Iowa’s post-COVID clinic suffer from brain fog.
The majority struggle with persistent shortness of breath and disabling fatigue. Dr. Alejandro Pezzulo is one of a team of physicians running the clinic.
“We always take them very, very seriously and we understand that they’re disabling to the patients,” Pezzulo says, “but it’s just so hard to come up with how to treat them if we don’t know what caused them in the first place.”
State Representative Amy Nielsen, a Democrat from North Liberty, tested positive in January and has spent most of the time since in bed. Nielsen believes she was exposed at the statehouse, where the Republican majority refused to implement a mask mandate. She’s angry with GOP leaders for the overall handling of the virus, which has left Iowa with one of the highest infection rates in the country.
“We’re going to see more people need unemployment benefits, or any kind of food benefits, rent help,” Nielson says. “So many people are acting like it’s over or normal is just around the corner. We’re never going to go back to what we were in January of 2020. It’s just never going to be that way again.”
Some long-haulers in Iowa are leaving the workforce and applying for disability benefits, unable to carry on and unsure if they’ll ever recover. Nielsen says the state could be seeing the effects for decades.
(By Kate Payne, Iowa Public Radio)