AUSTIN (KXAN) — Roughly eight months after Albino Hernandez was released from the hospital, he’s still fighting the lasting effects of COVID-19.
The beloved Eanes Independent School District custodian spent much of the new year fighting for his life in various hospitals across Central Texas before being discharged in May.
Now, months later, Hernandez’s family says he’s still battling pain and numbness in his leg, which doctors believe is related to his COVID-19 diagnosis. When KXAN called to check in Wednesday, Hernandez was headed home from yet another round of physical therapy.
“Physical therapy is working,” his daughter, Janie, reported. Hernandez had to have a blood clot removed from his hip a few weeks ago, which doctors believe was caused by his extensive amount of time in the hospital.
“The doctor believes that now that it has been removed, and along with physical therapy, it may relieve his pain more and more but only time will tell,” Janie said.
Hernandez is far from alone. The growing group of people experiencing long-term effects of COVID-19 are being casually referred to as “long-haulers.”
Dr. Michael Brode, medical director for the Post-COVID-19 Program at UT Health Austin, said in a study done on mostly hospitalized COVID-19 patients, more than half reported some symptoms even six months after getting sick with the virus.
The good news is those symptoms usually go away overtime, Brode said in a Dell Medical School and Travis County Medical Society town hall Wednesday.
He also talked about the difficulties doctors can have diagnosing those symptoms. As of right now, there is no diagnosis criteria and no test to determine if symptoms are indeed caused by a previous battle with COVID-19.
“My approach in our program to all patients is first of all I believe them,” Brode explained. “I’ve had about 15 people describe the sensation of their whole body vibrating when it’s not vibrating.”
But it’s not just shortness of breath and fatigue local health leaders are seeing in people who have experienced COVID-19, many are suffering psychiatric symptoms too, Dr. Blair Walker, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Dell Med and chief of Psychiatry at Dell Seton Medical Center, said.
A study, which has not yet been published, shows even six months after getting COVID-19, roughly 17% of people reported anxiety, 13% reported depression and 30% met PTSD criteria, according to Walker.
“PTSD is very common, almost 30% at months 4, 5, 6 in post-COVID patients. PTSD is also quite common in people experiencing a severe medical illness,” Walker said. That’s especially true for people who end up in the ICU, she noted.
The good news: PTSD is diagnosable and treatable, Walker said. She encouraged health care professionals to screen for mental health conditions in post-COVID-19 patients and refer them to the appropriate specialists.
UT Health Austin also has a post-COVID-19 program for people experiencing symptoms after getting sick with the virus. To see if you qualify and schedule an appointment, check out its website.