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Hutchinson teen, mother hope to raise awareness about impact of long-haul COVID

Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 5:34 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - A 16-year-old in Hutchinson is looking forward to the day she can get out of bed. Elise Unruh has been suffering from the impacts of long-COVID for nearly 10 months now. She and her mother are now trying to bring awareness to the condition.

Since December of 2020, Elise has suffered from pain, fatigue, brain fog and trouble breathing that requires her to be on oxygen. Those are just some of the symptoms.

“They don’t call it long COVID for nothing. Recovery is very slow,” said Elise’s mom, Heidi.

The four walls of Elise’s bedroom are nearly her entire world; her days are spent mostly in bed. The one respite she has is the yarn she crochets. It’s one of many crafts she’s turned to. Her mother said it’s how Elise copes and feels of sense of control over her own life. It has also become a way of expressing herself, especially when her voice gets no louder than a whisper to communicate.

“It took a while to be able to use my hands. Like I couldn’t move them,” said Elise.

Elise gives away items to say thank you for the support she’s received from friends, family, church and community. People have also helped by donating yarn.

There have been online support groups that have also provided an avenue for help during this time.

Heidi said long COVID has completely upended her daughter’s life. She said she was once active in theatre and dance. She was on the swim team and even training to become a lifeguard. But last Thanksgiving, Elise was diagnosed with COVID-19. Once the two-week period was up, she went to school. Heidi said Elise made it through her first class, but couldn’t make it to her second period.

“She just ran out of steam. She couldn’t take another step,” recalls Heidi.

She said her daughter’s condition worsened from there. The severity of her symptoms has varied. Some are managed with medication and the COVID-19 vaccine, which she got this summer, has helped, but others have gotten worse.

“Seeing your child in pain. Seeing your child struggle to take a breath is a terrible experience for a parent,” said Heidi.

She said they are working to get Elise into a long-COVID treatment program, but it hasn’t been easy.

“We applied for insurance, just assuming this is what she needs, assuming it would be covered, and we were very shocked when it wasn’t,” said Heidi.

Heidi said what has helped give long COVID recognition is the work from early on is the pandemic by doctors who were experiencing the condition, which has helped them to be believed by many of their doctors. However, as they’ve experienced, there remains a lot of unknowns.

She said, “It doesn’t fit any of the boxes or any of the categories of existing conditions, so the tests don’t catch it. The diagnostic procedures that they have, she doesn’t fit into them, so it’s really easy to look at her tests and say you’re fine, you spend five minutes with her and you know she is not fine.”

Heidi and Elise said it’s important for people to understand that kids aren’t immune to the virus.

Heidi said, “One of the things that I personally struggle with is sometimes thinking how our lives would be different if maybe somebody had chosen to wear a mask the day that Elise was exposed.”

Their message - to wear a mask and get vaccinated because they don’t want to see another teen or child suffer from this pain.

“I think this experience is going to change Elise. I am fully convinced she is going to get better. I know she is going to get better, but she’s not going to be the same, none of us are going to be the same, but I think it’s making us all more compassionate,” said Heidi.

Even with this condition, Heidi said Elise is still there.

Heidi and Elise said it’s important for anyone who thinks they might have long COVID symptoms to reach out to discuss it with their doctor. Even people who are initially asymptomatic can later develop long COVID.

Some initial research suggests that a quarter of people who are diagnosed with COVID-19 will still have symptoms five weeks later and 10 percent see those long haul symptoms surpass 12 weeks.

Resources:

Survivor Corps

ACL

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