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Coming "All the Way Back" from COVID-19

When Amy Behen received her negative COVID-19 test result, she was excited to move ahead with her life after several weeks of sore throat, nausea and severe fatigue.

“I thought ‘OK, great, here we go—done with COVID,’” says the 43-year-old mother of two.

But her fatigue and shortness of breath never went away and were joined by a new symptom: brain fog. Multitasking, a skill the working mom had perfected, was suddenly impossible. “I couldn’t remember even simple things unless I wrote them down,” she says. “But the worst part was a fatigue so overwhelming that I literally couldn’t move off the couch.”

For some like Behen, a negative COVID-19 test doesn’t mean an end to serious or even debilitating symptoms. Shortness of breath, weakness, pain, mental fogginess, anxiety and other complications continue to plague them for weeks or even months. Helping these individuals fully regain their lives is why Providence St. Jude created the Post-COVID Recovery Program, one of the few programs of its kind in the state.

The multidisciplinary program brings together experts in areas from physical therapy to cognitive recovery to create individualized therapies based on the patient’s specific needs. For Behen, weekly sessions focused on rebuilding her strength and stamina, restoring normal breathing patterns, and regaining mental focus and concentration. Sessions covered the gamut, from working on paced breathing while climbing stairs to practicing staying relaxed while trying to remember multiple instructions.

Shortly after beginning the program, Behen found her fear and anxiety disappearing. But it was during her fourth visit to the St. Jude Centers for Rehabilitation and Wellness that she mentally turned the corner: “For the first time, I knew for certain I was going to come all the way back,” she explains. “The expertise and support my therapists brought to my recovery was amazing: If necessary, they were going to drag me across the finish line.”

Natalia Covarrubias-Eckardt, MD, medical director of the program, says Behen’s symptoms are sometimes seen in those who were hospitalized with COVID-19 as well as those who recovered at home. “The why is not fully known,” she explains. “Some research indicates the ACE2 receptor—which is prevalent in the lungs, heart, blood vessels and GI tract—provides an entry point for the coronavirus. If so, it would explain why so many organ systems are affected, leaving some people unable to walk even short distances or complete simple tasks.”

St. Jude’s Post-COVID Recovery Program draws upon the same expertise that has made the hospital a national leader in areas from cognitive recovery and chronic pain to cancer rehabilitation. “We don’t know of another program in the state that offers this level of comprehensiveness and innovation,” explains Dr. Covarrubias-Eckardt.

Behen says she’s grateful to be off the couch and moving closer every day to her old self. What is she most looking forward to? “Coaching my daughter’s softball team this spring—and I plan to lead the wind sprints.”

The Providence St. Jude Post-COVID Recovery Program requires a physician referral and is covered by most insurance plans.

Providence St. Jude Also Has a Post-COVID Wellness Program

As a follow-up to the structured Post-COVID Recovery Program or for those whose symptoms are not severe, a Post-COVID Wellness Program is also available. This at-home program includes breath work and nutrition strategies to reduce the inflammation caused by COVID.

The unique 30-day virtual program provides additional help and support in targeting common COVID-19 side effects while also improving your overall health. This online program uses daily lessons, videos and classes to not only continue your progress, but add several new elements to your recovery.

What you’ll learn:

• Research-based breath work to both increase lung function and reduce anxiety. You’ll start with a virtual private consultation with our yoga and mindfulness coach and then continue to receive additional recorded lessons to teach you how to use specific breath exercises to improve breathing and well-being.

• Nutritional strategies to reduce the inflammation that contributes to so many COVID-19 side effects as well as other illnesses and diseases. Videos and lessons include cooking demonstrations, expert nutritional advice and easy-to-follow recipes.

• Gentle movement and stretching sessions designed and recorded by our fitness experts to address the specific needs of post-COVID-19 patients. You can also access dozens of livestreamed and recorded exercise classes that help address issues from muscle weakness and balance issues to exercising with painful joints.

Many begin this program while finishing our Post-COVID Rehabilitation Program, but participating in structured therapy is not required to benefit from this innovative online program. Anyone can sign up, and no physician referral is needed. The flat fee of $49 also includes access to all livestreamed and recorded exercise and nutritional classes offered at the St. Jude Wellness Center.

To schedule an appointment or learn more about either the Post-COVID Rehabilitation Program or the Post-COVID Wellness Program, please email stjudewellness@stjoe.org or call (714) 578-8770.

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