Many of the earliest COVID ‘long-haulers’ still suffer; Seattle researchers are trying to figure out why
Dr. Jonathan Himmelfarb and the team at UW Medicine’s Kidney Research Institute provide insights.
By Sandi Doughton
Seattle Times staff reporter
Kelly Hickman knows exactly how she got the novel coronavirus:
Attending a friend’s wedding in early March, just before scattered outbreaks around the globe coalesced into a pandemic.
What the 37-year-old Seattle woman doesn’t know is when — or if — her life will get back to normal.
Though her initial infection was mild enough that she kept working from home, Hickman soon found herself plunged into a cycle of crushing fatigue and brain fog so impenetrable she couldn’t read a book or follow the plot of a movie. Her skin felt like it was on fire. She had to quit her job and for months could barely get out of bed.
As the pandemic enters its second year, Hickman still hasn’t regained her formerly robust health.
“Is this chronic? Is this my life now?” she asked. “I don’t know and the doctors don’t know.”
“Long-haulers” is one of the terms used to describe people like Hickman, for whom COVID-19 is far more than a passing disease. Many have been slammed with symptoms that persist long after their bodies have cleared the virus and disrupt a bewildering array of body systems: The lungs, of course, but also the heart, kidneys, digestive tract, brain and nervous system. While protracted recoveries are common among the sickest, most vulnerable patients, the long-hauler ranks are also filled with younger people with no underlying medical problems and who were never hospitalized.