What are the long term effects of COVID-19? One patient explains

Seventy-three-year-old Ernesto Averia is reminded of his battle with coronavirus every day. Months after his initial diagnosis, he’s still being treated at the Hackensack Meridian John F. Kennedy Johnson Rehabilitation Institute.

“Two things that COVID left me with is the respiratory problem and the other one is my leg,” Averia said.

Back in March, both Ernesto and his wife, Lourdes, were diagnosed with COVID-19.

“I get emotional. I’m emotional right now,” she said.

It hit Ernesto harder. He spent two months or so in the hospital, 23 of those days on a ventilator.

“I remember them carting me to the intensive care unit. But that’s all I remember,” he said. His wife says she prayed for her husband. “I love you,” was the first thing Averia said upon seeing his wife for the first time after being taken off the ventilator.

“Even when we were having conversations together, he needed the oxygen at all times,” said Dr. Christine Greiss, director of the Concussion Program at the institute. 

Averia started rehab back in April. His doctor, Christine Greiss, says the pain he’s still experiencing in his leg all these months later is nerve damage.

“It was a combination of COVID weakening all of the muscles and the positioning.We moved patients back and forth from laying on their stomach to laying on their back for several hours at a time to be able to expand the lungs and to allow for better breathing so that they can get off the ventilator quicker,” Greiss said. “And so that positioning does also affect the nerve especially the positioning of the leg.”

Greiss says people of all ages in the post-COVID rehabilitation program are experiencing long term side effects to the lungs, brain and clotting mechanisms, so there’s higher risk of strokes and heart attacks.

“Their blood pressure is through the roof and they’ve never had a diagnosis of hypertension, never had issues with their heart before, and now all of a sudden, they’re suffering from these episodes,” Greiss said.

It’s been more than three months since Averia left the hospital and he’s getting better, but his journey isn’t over.

“This is not a joke, this is serious, I’m telling you right now, and I found out that this coronavirus is really, really vicious,” he said.

Lourdes Averia has been by her husband’s side, checking his blood pressure and helping him with daily routines, like taking a bath or getting out of bed.

“She has been very patient with me in the beginning and up to now. Now that she knows I can move around she can go back to yelling at me, that’s fine,” he said. “We have our anniversary, our 50th anniversary when I was in the hospital, but I was on the ventilator. And I really believe their prayers helped me through it,” he said.

“I’m very happy that he’s back with us,” she said.

As he deals with continuous pain in the wake of his coronavirus battle, Averia has one message: Tell the world to take this seriously.

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