AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Coming off of a ventilator after battling COVID-19 is a success on its own, but these patients face more challenges even after being discharged from the ICU.
Stan Leffew spent 11 days on a ventilator just days after testing positive for the coronavirus.
“What they told my wife was that, my chances of being successfully extubated, getting off the ventilator are somewhere between 30 and 50%,” he said.
He was discharged from the hospital on April 21, but now, a month later, he’s still working to gain his strength back.
“By far, the hardest part of the whole thing is the extreme fatigue that you have. I lost 35 pounds in about roughly 20 days,” Leffew explained.
The fatigue is common for anyone to experience after being taken off a ventilator.
But one of his doctors, Dr. Mark Sigler, Pulmonologist and Intensivist for Texas Tech Physicians, said COVID-19 affects more than just the lungs.
“The main difference that we’re seeing with COVID in comparison to other diseases — like a bacterial pneumonia — is that COVID does affect many other organs. It affects your lungs, certainly, it can also affect your stomach, your kidneys, and especially your brain,” Dr. Sigler said, explaining this adds to the recovery process.
“In addition to doing things like physical therapy to help get your muscular strength back, you also need to do more cognitive exercises to help recover some of your brain function that they can sometimes become impaired or damaged during infections like this specifically with COVID,” Dr. Sigler explained.
The physical therapy begins in the hospital with basic functions, like sitting up and standing.
“[The physical therapist] literally had to teach me how to walk again. It was like A brain would tell my foot to move in the foot, just swing into complete rebellion. It just wouldn’t move,” Leffew said.
Talking was even difficult for weeks after being discharged.
“Now, I can talk without running out of air,” Leffew said. “But when I first came out the first couple of weeks, I would start a sentence. And that last two or three words of the sentence, I’m whispering because I don’t have enough air to actually get the word out.”
Leffew explained the muscle deterioration he experienced led to a loss of balance, and loss of coordination.
“I look at my handwriting and, ‘No, I didn’t write that.’ So I’ve lost some fine motor skills as well,” he added.
Now, nearly a month later, Leffew only has a few more weeks of therapy left.
“You know, I have the best doctors in the world, and while I give them all the credit, the healing credit goes to God,” Leffew said.
“Seeing patients like Stan… help us take care of more patients with COVID,” Dr. Sigler said.