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22-year-old COVID ‘long hauler’ fights symptoms 11 months after infection



DENVER (KDVR) – A healthy endurance athlete and thriving student, Harper Powell’s life was drastically changed by COVID-19 almost a year ago.

“It’s been scary at times, and it’s been frustrating, like everything,” Powell said.

The now 22-year-old studied abroad in early 2020. She became ill in February, just as the coronavirus made headlines around the world.

“I did not have a very serious infection, but it was unusual for me. It started with a very tight chest. I felt like I couldn’t take a deep breath. Then I started coughing and had some other symptoms for the next couple of weeks, “Powell said.

Powell never tested for COVID-1

9, as test supplies were not widely available at the time. After the pandemic forced her to return home, her symptoms improved, but only temporarily. To this day, most of her symptoms linger to some degree.

“A lot of weird inflammatory symptoms here and there, with the most consistent headaches, fatigue, eczema, and then the tightness in the chest has also held up,” Powell said.

Powell competed as an endurance athlete, riding mountain bikes in national competitions. She says her symptoms prevented her from participating in basic training.

Like other ‘long-distance patients’ in Colorado, Powell sought treatment at UCHealth’s post-COVID clinic.

“This is a real phenomenon, but we’re still trying to understand exactly who it’s happening to and why it’s happening to certain patients,” said Dr. Sarah Jolley, head of the clinic.

Jolley says they often see long-term symptoms in young patients who were in good health before COVID-19. Symptoms usually include exercise intolerance, fatigue, shortness of breath and persistent cough. Neurological symptoms such as “brain fog” and confusion are also common.

“I think that’s what’s so different about this syndrome, that it does not seem to affect just one organ system. It seems to affect organ systems in different ways in different patients, “said Jolley.

Jolley says that research is underway at UCHealth to try to understand risk factors for long-term symptoms.

“There are also ongoing studies looking at the immune response to understand if there are differences in immunity that dictate these symptoms, but a lot of it is happening right now,” Jolley said.

As Powell’s symptoms approach the one-year mark, she remains optimistic that she will recover completely.
“I think it’s a matter of time and just taking care of my body and learning to be patient,” Powell said.


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