Central Virginia Health District studying impact of long COVID in Lynchburg

LYNCHBURG, Va. – New research is underway on long COVID, a prolonged illness after a coronavirus infection, and how it impacts our community.

10 News anchor Rachel Lucas spoke to a woman with long-lasting symptoms and showed how research on cases like hers could help find a treatment for others.

A licensed practical nurse for 31 years, Margaret Martula of Altavista made healthcare her life’s work.

Now, six years after she left the profession, and three positive COVID tests later, the lingering symptoms have made visits to the doctor’s office the norm. But this time, as a patient.

“It’s kind of changed the trajectory of my life, although I don’t let it stop me. In fact, my hashtag is I’m going to live until I die.”

Margaret tested positive for COVID three times.

The last, and most severe - COVID pneumonia.

“It’s affected my lungs, it’s affected every body system.”

Six months later, Margaret was still struggling with debilitating symptoms.

“I sat in that chair over there and couldn’t move, couldn’t think, couldn’t walk to the bathroom. I could not function. My husband said, but you are still here. Because I would cry because I couldn’t do anything.”

And even more frustrating, the former LPN with more than three decades of experience under her belt said she feels like some doctors have been gaslighting her.

“I would go to the emergency room with a blood pressure of 230 over 120 and they would pat me on the shoulder and say it’s just anxiety go home. One night I went and I don’t remember what was going on but he gave me two Tylenol and said to go home.”

But her story isn’t uncommon.

The CDC estimates 5% of the U.S. Population suffers from long COVID.

Symptoms can include brain fog, trouble breathing, a cough, fatigue, and problems with the nervous system.

Cali Anderson, COVID-19 epidemiologist for the Central Virginia Health District said there’s no single test to diagnose it.

“Long COVID is so vast, there are so many different symptoms and conditions that people can have that it’s very hard to diagnose. A lot of times people have to see many different doctors depending on the type of symptoms that they are experiencing.”

That’s why she is leading new research about long COVID and how it’s affecting our community.

“We are very excited about the implications that it can have, especially on our residents because so often rural counties are overlooked in a lot of data and research so we are really excited to be able to do this locally.”

Anderson’s team will interview long COVID patients like Margaret.

They’re looking to hear about lingering symptoms and even struggles to find treatment

“It’s very frustrating. Because I know what I need and nobody wants to help and so I’ve pretty much giving it up. I have the neurologist, immunologist, and cardiologist in Raleigh. I have interventional and endocrinology and urology in UVA. The functional doctor is in Maryland.”

Margaret said functional medicine has been the most helpful which led her to an anti-inflammatory diet and looking for holistic options like mushroom coffee.

“It’s the best thing I’ve done for myself.

She said being a nurse taught her to advocate for herself.

“I learned a long time ago you have to put on your big girl pants and figure it out yourself because a doctor has a 15-minute window to deal with you. They don’t have time to research it. They don’t have time to think about it.”

That’s why she’s participating in the Lynchburg research project with Anderson’s team and is encouraging others who suffer from long COVID to share their stories.

Anderson said the findings of the project will be published and shared with the medical community, hopefully leading to a positive change in the way long COVID is diagnosed and treated.

Read more about the research here.

About the Authors

Alli Graham came aboard the digital team as an evening digital content producer in June 2022.

Watch Rachel weekdays during 10 News at 5:30, 6 and 7 p.m.

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