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Many Ohioans are still dealing with long COVID

A man sits in bed holding his head in his hand.
Andrea Piacquadio

52-year-old Lisa Spieth said her battle with COVID began in January of 2020 before most people even knew what it was.

“I had this weird flu that I had never experienced before. And it took a long time to go away. But it had odd symptoms that I couldn't explain," said Spieth in an interview from her home in North Olmstead.

And those odd symptoms persisted. Fast forward more than a year later and the Cleveland area woman found herself still battling this illness.

Lisa Spieth
Courtesy of Lisa Spieth
Lisa Spieth

“Horrible pain throughout my body for months. I was literally starving. I could not eat. Horrible nose drainage, sinus drainage, coughing, extreme sensitivity to light. I just felt like I had lost my ability to function. And even think- the anxiety was extremely high. I could not sleep, I'd go for two or three days without sleeping, " she said.

Down to 88 pounds, Spieth said doctors began questioning her sanity.

“Their first thought was, 'You know what? She's she's mentally ill.' They were asking, 'Are you taking medication? What are you taking? Have you ever been examined by a psychiatrist?' And I'm like, 'I'm dying. There's something wrong with me'", she said.

But after her blood tests came back, Spieth said her medical team finally believed that she wasn't making it all up. Her symptoms were directly connected to COVID.

“They came flying in the room, hooking me up to the IV, they asked me, 'How are you even alive?' My potassium levels and my magnesium levels dropped down to almost nothing and I guess my heart was erratic," said Speith with a slight giggle.

“In our country, there's estimated to be close to 24 million people who have a syndrome consistent with long COVID. And that's roughly close to 800,000 people in the state of Ohio,” said Dr. Joseph Gastaldo.

Dr. Joseph Gastaldo is an infectious disease specialist with OhioHealth.

“The last thing we want to do is to marginalize these patients. Long COVID is a real condition. And we really must approach that mindset with the patient. These patients need to be evaluated," he said.

Dr. Gastaldo said the most challenging part of long COVID for patients and even doctors is they still do not know much about it. But they are learning more.

"We see it more in women. We see it more in people with lower socioeconomic class. We see it more so in hospitalized patients, although it does occur in people who have COVID and are not hospitalized. So there's some epidemiological trends that we are seeing," said Gastaldo.

But still more than 2 years after the global pandemic took hold, it's aftereffects still have a firm grip on Spieth, who is vaccinated. Despite it all, she said she is slowly trying to get her life back.

“There's 233 symptoms of long haulers. I had a lot of them. And a lot of people have multiple symptoms. I can't explain to you how it is to live with multiple symptoms. Have I gotten better? Yeah, where I was last year today, I am 60 to 80 percent better," said Spieth.

But challenges remain. Spieth said she's mentally exhausted after about three hours. She describes her recovery as two steps forward, one step back.

She's found solace in some support groups and talking to others about fighting long COVID. She said the important thing is to keep fighting to get better and never give up.

Williams was a reporter for WOSU. Natasha is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and has more than 20 years of television news and radio experience.