UPMC Pulmonary rehab program helping long-haul COVID patients

Coronavirus in Pennsylvania

SUSQUEHANNA TOWNSHIP, Pa. (WHTM) — Most people who test positive for COVID-19 recover with no issues, But some deal with lingering symptoms for months.

Now, UPMC has a new program in the Midstate to help.

Doctors are calling these patients long haulers because they’re still experiencing symptoms of cough, shortness of breath, fatigue months after testing positive for COVID-19.

“Usually if things go well you recover within a week or two,” said Taj Rahman, medical director of Pulmonary Medicine with UPMC Pinnacle. “But ultimately what ends up happening for about one-third of folks is they have these persistent symptoms.”

Every day he’s seeing more patients who are in it for the long haul.

“A lot of patients that I’m seeing now have this fatigue and also the shortness of breath and cough two to three months out from their infection and interfering with their lifestyles, can’t go back to work, sick days,” Rahman said.

Wayne Willey is one of those patients who spent about a month combined in the hospital.

“The whole time he was in the hospital he was desperately confused and couldn’t even ask for help when he needed it,” his wife Paula said. “It was a desperate situation because I couldn’t be there with him. I couldn’t help take care of him.”

He finally went home on Christmas Day.

More than 4 months later, “Taste, smell are not back. My energy level is probably 80, 85% of what I was before,” Willey said.

But Willey says he got that much energy back because of intensive physical therapy and then pulmonary rehab at UPMC.

“The pulmonary therapy was outstanding. They monitored the whole time and kept increasing my physical exercising,” Willey said.

Exercise training and health education helps increase stamina and improve quality of life for most.

Paula has been by his side the whole time.

“You have to ask and you have to push and you have to want to get better because it’s out there. You just have to know where to find it,” she said.

If you or someone you know is still experiencing symptoms months after being diagnosed with COVID, contact your primary care physician who can then refer you to the program.

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