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Your Healthy Family: Springs COVID patient documenting his long haul to recovery

Posted at 6:00 PM, Aug 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-20 20:00:19-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — In our last story, Colorado Springs resident Paul Nielsen shared his COVID-19 story and talked about the role he believes convalescent plasma played in his recovery.

In some ways, Paul’s COVID-19 story is ongoing and, in another way, it will live forever. By profession, Paul is a data architect and author. “I've published eight technical books, two of them Amazon best-sellers on how to code and design databases.”

His latest writing project, due out in September, tackles a new topic. Paul says, “It’s called ‘COVID-19 Case #741’ because here in El Paso County, I was recorded as the 741st case by the health department. It's my story; it's not a spy thriller, there's no big climactic ending. Spoiler alert: I live, but if you want to know what it's really like to live through COVID, that’s what I wrote down.”

Paul says he is still dealing with some symptoms months after coming home from UCHealth Memorial Hospital North. “The hospital killed the virus, stabilized me, and got me ready to continue recovering at home with oxygen therapy. The hospital did its job perfectly - but there's still a long way to go.”

It was a realization that didn’t take long for Paul to notice after he was discharged from Memorial North in Colorado Springs. “A few days after I got home, I took my first walk outdoors, masked up in my neighborhood. I made it to the end of the block and back and that totally wiped me out. I had to be in bed for the rest of the day.”

Besides fatigue, Paul says he also experiences shortness of breath and heart palpitations. “I go up the stairs even now, three months later, and sometimes I just have to sit down…”

Paul also says he is dealing with what’s commonly known as brain fog. “My wife and I call it COVID brain. Thinking of words is very difficult for me. I'm just now starting to get about 80% better at that word search. I wouldn't drive for about the first six weeks or so, my wife would, but now that I'm driving again I make more wrong turns all the time and I usually have a great sense of navigation, I always know where the mountain is.”

Paul says Facebook is one place he has found support in knowing he is not alone in his struggles. “I belong to a Facebook group called Survivor Corps. It's people who are long haulers, long-term victims of coronavirus, and all the symptoms they're having. One thing I like about that group is they really celebrate and encourage people to give their plasma. They post pictures of donations and there are a thousand people thanking them.”

Paul has also found support in being part of UCHealth’s COVID-19 project, a partnership between UCHealth and students at the University of Colorado School of Medicine Colorado Springs Branch. After being discharged from the hospital, Paul has been in contact with a CU School of Medicine third-year student. “She asked lots of great questions and listens to me patiently. I could tell it was gathering data for a study. In my profession, I gather data, so it all made sense.”

Dr. Renna Becerra is an inpatient internal medicine liaison for the CU School of Medicine Colorado Springs branch and co-investigator of the COVID-19 project. Dr. Becerra says Paul’s ongoing symptoms are not unique. “We recognized pretty quickly there was a subset of these patients that were not getting better like they were supposed to, months out from the onset of their symptoms. They were still having pretty moderately severe symptoms.”

Dr. Rober Lam, an emergency medicine physician at UCHealth Memorial and clinical assistant professor at the CU School of Medicine says the project is also shedding light on other aspects of life COVID-19 patients face after they leave the hospital. "We're learning that a lot of patients were struggling with anxiety and depression, and loneliness after being discharged from the hospital. And they still have unfortunately both the emotional impact of a great fear of returning to their families and the community. That was something that we probably would not have known if we didn't have the project ongoing."

Paul says, “I haven't had much depression or anxiety. I find myself to be slightly more irritable now, but really no depression. I got really tired of being in isolation. From my first symptom to the end of isolation back home was 40 days.”

Paul hopes the UCHealth COVID-19 project and what's learned from it will lead to more resources for others who will travel a similar path he has. “I've read that in the UK they’re opening up COVID recovery or rehab-type clinics because of all these long-term effects.”

If you don't read Paul's book, he hopes people will take one thing away from hearing his story. “There's a lot of people saying that COVID is a myth and that hospitals are making this up to make money. That makes no sense. Masks work, wear your mask.”

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