Chapel Hill, North Carolina – As scientists and doctors work to learn more about the coronavirus, there is good news for those struggling with the long-term effects of the virus. Many who face the chronic illness that follows COVID-19 feel lost and hopeless. But a UNC Health clinic was able to provide answers.
“I was diagnosed on July 30, 2020,” Ronald Rushing said. Nineteen months later, he is still living with symptoms of COVID-19.
Early on, doctors told him he needed to stay in isolation until the symptoms subsided.
“I stayed in my room, away from my family from July to September,” he said.
The lack of information about the coronavirus and not feeling cared for only made her symptoms worse.
A persistent cough, sore throat and severe headache prevented him from working.
“It was very difficult because we didn’t have a good understanding of what acute COVID entailed,” said John Michael Baratta, director of the University of North Carolina’s long-haul clinic at Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine.
Today, more than two years into the pandemic, health systems now recognize the need for special services and clinical spaces.
“We were the first COVID-19 clinic in the state and one of the first in the southeast region,” he said.
Patients like Rushing can now see specialists trained in long COVID and participate in rehabilitation services.
“Going to the COVID clinic helped me know someone believed me,” Rushing said.
He has also found solace in some of the online community groups for the suffering of the long COVID, particularly one called “Survivor Corps”.
“This site has helped me a lot, because there are 180,000 members of people as miserable as me,” Rushing said.
Baratta says there is hope for people like Rushing.
“I would say the majority of patients in our clinic, probably over 80% of patients, had really dramatic improvements in their condition,” he said.
Meanwhile, Rushing has been denied disability coverage and in April he could lose his health insurance if he loses his job due to his long illness.
“It took up so much of my life,” he said. “All anybody wants to do is say they’re sorry, and you’re like, ‘I appreciate that, but I’m sorry, I’m not covering it,'” he said.
There are 70 clinics for people with long COVID across the country, and two are in the Triangle – one at UNC Health in Chapel Hill and another at WakeMed in Raleigh.