COVID-19 long-haulers get recovery help from Pomona hospital – Daily Bulletin

Javier Rojas

Denalonor Bustamante is looking for the day when things can go back to “normal”.

After contracting COVID-19 in December and a subsequent three-week stay at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, she was cleared for release the day before her daughter’s 21st birthday, an event Bustamante says she couldn’t miss. Yet, the 62-year-old didn’t come home empty handed.

“Until two weeks ago, I was carrying around an oxygen tank everywhere with me,” Bustamante said. “I’m an active person and exercised regularly, next thing I know I’m siting down all day with oxygen attached to my chair.”

The Alta Loma resident is one of countless post-COVID patients — sometimes referred to as COVID-19 long-haulers — who are trying to regain control of their lives.

The Post-COVID Recovery Program at PVHMC has seen approximately 200 patients since it began in January. Long-haulers across the region have made their way to the medical center in Pomona, seeking rehabilitation and therapy for symptoms that just won’t go away, said Tammy Magill, Pulmonary Rehabilitation Respiratory Therapist.

After a wave of patients came to seek pulmonary rehabilitation treatment in January, Magill said, she and staff there recognized there was a growing need. Within weeks, she collaborated with physical therapists to create a program designed specifically for this burgeoning population of long haulers.

Pomona Valley Hospital physical therapist Jerry Harris, left, monitors COVID-19 survivor Cindy Ragnauth of Rancho Cucamonga as she gets treatment for post-COVID-19 long-hauler symptoms at the Post-COVID Recovery Program at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center in Pomona on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

“We pretty much sent out flyers and information in January to the different doctors’ offices and started getting patients in right away,” Magill said.

The program is led by PVHMC pulmonologist Gurbinder Sadana and includes about 10 members of the PVHMC’s Rehabilitation Department. Respiratory and cardiac therapists, physical and occupational therapists and speech and language pathologists are all involved in the program.

For some patients, the coronavirus infection might have been mild, for others they never knew they’d even contracted the virus, yet months later, they are dealing with lasting symptoms.

Bustamante’s recovery journey has been long and filled with medical intervention, which included PVHMC’s program

Over the past seven months, Bustamante has experienced a range of lingering symptoms, including shortness of breath, memory loss and constant fatigue. She recalls the day she tried walking up the stairs of her two-story home. It took 45 minutes to make it to the bedroom, she said.

“Just walking 30 feet made me tired and I could not lay down because I would start coughing uncontrollably,” she said. “I didn’t sleep on a bed until May, pretty much lived on the couch.”

Post-COVID-19 patients have suffered a range of long-term symptoms, including headaches, tremors, joint pain and blurry vision, as well as ongoing neurological issues like anxiety, confusion, sadness, irritability, difficulty sleeping and memory problems.

An estimated 10% to 30% of COVID-19 survivors are experiencing lingering symptoms after recovery, Magill said.

In helping create the program, Magill incorporated physical and medical rehabilitation as its core component. Each patient is evaluated to create a unique-to-them treatment plan, which includes exercise to restore functional independence.

Patients use a variety of exercise equipment to improve endurance and stamina for mobility.

During sessions, patients wear a cardiac monitor, while blood pressure and oxygen saturation are also monitored. Supplemental oxygen is also sometimes needed, Magill said. The goal, Magill said, is for patients to learn different breathing techniques to help control breathing and utilize their lungs as efficiently as possible.

“We start them out with a six-minute walk on their first evaluation and based on that walk,” Magill said. “It tells me what kind of exercises and modalities I can use to start building up that patient.”

The past year has shown Magill the lasting effects of COVID-19 as she’s helped patients attempt to return to their lives, symptom free. A timeline for “back to normal” isn’t something she can always guarantee, she said she reminds them.

“If I had $1 for every time a patient asked me ‘when will things go back to normal?’ I probably would be a millionaire by now,” Magill said. “They usually ask me three times a week, because they’re coming here three times a week. So I respond ‘I don’t know’ and that’s the truth.”

Pomona Valley Hospital physical therapist Jerry Harris, right monitors COVID-19 survivor Cindy Ragnauth of Rancho Cucamonga as she is treated for post-COVID-19 long-hauler symptoms at Post-COVID Recovery program at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center in Pomona on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

While the delta variant has become the leading infection strain in Los Angeles County, said Rick Rossman, Sports Medicine & Athletic Rehabilitation administrative director, however, the program has yet to see a long-hauler who contracted the strain. There is still much to learn about the delta variant, including its lasting effects on those who recover, he said.

Meanwhile, long-haulers seeking treatment at PVHMC have skewed younger in recent weeks, Rossman said. Patients ages have ranged from 25 to 66 years old.

“These are firemen, policemen, teachers and nurses, people that are young and still in the workforce doing physical things, they are the ones joining the program now.” Rossman said.

Many like Cindy Ragnauth, 37, from Rancho Cucamonga, contracted the virus and felt like they recovered fine at first, only to have symptoms stick around. After telling her doctor about reoccurring pain in her chest, Ragnauth was referred to the post-COVID program in June.

“Even to get up from my bed to walk to the restroom, it felt like I had an asthma attack,” said Ragnauth. “Today, I’m feeling better, slowly but better.”

Like Bustamante, Ragnauth is still working toward regaining a life similar to what it was before she contracted COVID-19. However, Ragnauth said she can now can walk around the house without passing out, something she said she couldn’t do a month ago. She said the program at the Pomona hospital is what helped her.

Ragnauth longs to return to “normal,” and said at times it seems elusive, but every day gets her closer to doing what she misses most: dancing.

“I miss being able to move around and just out to dance with friends,” Ragnauth said. “That’s my normal.”

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