At 22, Devin Kadis can talk about what it’s like to have COVID-19 and suffer long-hauler symptoms for 10 months. She wants you to know what happened to her for one reason: She wants you to get vaccinated so you won’t have to go through a similar harrowing ordeal.
Why get vaccinated
When Kadis, an avid runner, became ill with COVID-19, she couldn’t get out of bed let alone get out to run.
“In the most stressful time of my entire life, I couldn’t exercise and that was probably the hardest part of the whole thing because I couldn’t relieve my mind the way that I have for my whole life,’’ she said.
Kadis, who graduated from Colorado State University with a bachelor’s degree in Exercise and Health Science in the spring of 2021 now has a new job in Salt Lake City. Kadis is thrilled to be on the mend after a senior year in college that was memorable not for epic parties, pranks and panache, but COVID-19.
She got COVID-19 in August 2020. She has asthma, and the virus knocked her down without warning.
“I was pretty sick,’’ Kadis said. “I was pretty much bedridden for two weeks. I didn’t get up. I had all of the symptoms: body aches, chest pain, loss of taste and smell, numbing and tingling – all of that.’’
Fortunately, she was able to stay home for a couple of weeks and didn’t require hospitalization.
“It was just like a really bad flu kind of thing and then by the end of the quarantine period, I was feeling much better and I went back to work for a week and everything was pretty good. I was a little tired, but that was it,’’ she recalled.
Then, a few weeks later and again without warning, long-hauler symptoms associated with COVID-19 struck and she suffered with long-hauler symptoms. In the spring, a doctor would discover she also had pneumonia.
COVID-19 long-hauler symptoms
“I couldn’t do anything that required any level of exertion,’’ she said. “I would get these ‘body crashes’ that would happen like once or twice a week for eight months. My body would shut down. I would lose all feeling in my arms or legs; I would ache; I would slur my words; I couldn’t walk.’’
Kadis said she had chest pain, back pain, brain fog, and a loss of smell and taste. She became so weak that one time her boss had to carry her from her workplace and to her car. On another occasion, her friends had to carry her from the living room couch to her bed – she didn’t have the strength to make it on her own.
“One night, I had fallen out of bed and I couldn’t get up. I didn’t have the energy to get back into bed,’’ she said.
She’d sleep it off, wake up the next morning and feel exhausted as if she had just run a marathon. About 48 hours after the ‘body crash,’ she’d feel better, only to experience a new crash a few days later. The cycle continued for months.
Kadis worried. She knew something was wrong but could not get relief. She went to her primary care physician who told her she had anxiety.
“They just said it was all in my head,” she said. “That was really frustrating, and I couldn’t figure out why it was all happening. And it’s tough. I’m a senior in college and I couldn’t do anything.”
Growing stronger after fighting COVID-19 a second time
By happenstance, Kadis saw Dr. Sarah Jolley, a CU Medicine physician who works at the UCHealth Pulmonology Clinic – Anschutz Medical Campus and specializes in pulmonary disorders, on the local news. A reporter was interviewing Jolley about work she was doing to help long-haulers recover and grow stronger after COVID-19.
Kadis wasted no time. The next morning, she called UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital and scheduled an appointment to see Jolley.
“She was actually the first doctor that I had seen who was actually looking at COVID and post-COVID. So I got an appointment with her, immediately. And she immediately started running tests on me, which is all I ever wanted. It made the world of difference,’’ Kadis said.
Kadis had a pulmonary function test, numerous blood tests and chest X-rays. Jolley also referred her to Dr. Natasha Altman, who specialized in heart failure and cardiology at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. Altman asked Kadis to have an EKG and a stress test to reveal any heart issues.
Despite Kadis’s young age and health, the significant long-term symptoms including fatigue, chest pain and shortness of breath deeply concerned Jolley.
“It was clear that when I met Devin that she was a long way from how she was pre-COVID-19 and that her quality of life was markedly impacted by her ongoing illness,” Jolley said.
Nevertheless, Kadis positive attitude and “acceptance of the unknown likely helped her to cope with the unique situation of post-acute COVID,” Jolley said.
Coping with the unique situation of post-acute COVID
Though Devin suffered for 10 months, estimates of post-acute sequela of COVID (PASC) vary significantly across studies, Jolley said. Most estimates suggest that between 10% to 20% of individuals will experience symptoms long-term. Data suggest women may be more predisposed to symptoms, although clinically, both genders have been impacted.
Jolley said scientists and physicians are still learning about the natural course of recovery from PASC.
“Clinically, we have seen some patients improve and some who have prolonged symptoms. We still do not have great ways to predict how long symptoms will last in particular patient groups,” Jolley said. “The National Institutes of Health is starting a study to better understand predictors of recovery and mechanisms of underlying pathology amongst PASC patients.”
Long-hauler syndrome in young people poses added challenges
Jolley said long-hauler syndrome is difficult because symptoms often are nonspecific and young, healthy individuals are impacted.
“This can lead to a dismissal of symptoms or a tendency for providers to encourage patients to get over it when they are truly struggling. Our clinic aims to provide a holistic, multi-system approach to recovery and treatment for PASC patients,” she said. “While we don’t have complete answers, our patients take comfort in knowing that what they are experiencing is real and well-described among other PASC patients.”
Jolley’s continues to see patients in clinic and help primary care physicians with ongoing management issues. Each patient’s experience is unique and the level of care that each patient requires varies on their symptoms and individual needs, Jolley said.
“We have learned that PASC impacts patients recovering from COVID-19 across the spectrum of illness and that patients with mild initial symptoms can have significant long-lasting symptoms,” Jolley said. “We know that PASC is a multi-system syndrome and that presentations vary across patients. There are a number of theories why this may occur including a prolonged inflammatory response, an autoimmune reaction and/or persistent viral infection/reservoir.”
Kadis said the fact that tests were ordered made a huge difference for her.
“We went through a lot of tests and a lot of them didn’t show very much. But just the fact that they were validating me, they were saying, ‘This is very real. This is very physical.’ For my mentality, it was the only reason that I got through the year.’’
Turns out, Kadis had severe pneumonia for five months, which explained her chest pain. She was prescribed medication and healed from pneumonia. Simultaneously, the frequency of the ‘body crashes’ also began to lessen.
Running again after two battles with COVID-19
Kadis completed a stress test May 18, 2021, that had been ordered by Dr. Altman, who afterward gave Kadis the green light to start running again.
“She said she didn’t see anything bad with my heart, so I’m almost out of it now,’’ Kadis said. “It’s definitely going much better now, but it was about 10 months of being sick.’’
When it came her turn to get vaccinated, Kadis did not hesitate. She received her second dose of the Moderna vaccine on April 13, 2021 – and she’s encouraging others her age to get vaccinated.
“Everything really started to turn around,” she said. “I don’t know if it was the second vaccine, but the timing is there. I got my second vaccine and I got my sense of smell back, which I hadn’t had for 10 months, so if that was coincidence that would be wild.
“I started going to the gym again, and I went for a run for the first time in a year, which is like my favorite thing in the whole world to do. The stress test went super well and (Altman) said she didn’t see anything bad with my heart. So I’m almost out of it now.’’
Helping others understand the importance of COVID-19 vaccinations
In her new job, Kadis works with the National Abilities Center in Salt Lake City helping people with differing abilities achieve a greater quality of life through adaptive rehabilitation.
She’s back to running three or four times a week and singing the praises of the benefits of exercise.
“Exercise is everything. There’s a hormone that is actually physically being released that helps to make you happier; the fact is, you’re getting healthier,’’ she said. “Exercise is just huge, it was my stress relief, my outlet, my go-to for everything.’’
As she battled COVID-19 long-hauler symptoms for 10 months, she missed it.
“That was a dark time because I just couldn’t figure out what to do because it seemed like everything was so wrong,’’ she said.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot, because anyone who knows me, they’re inclined to get the vaccine after seeing what I went through. They don’t want it to happen to them.”
She knows that many people her age are not opposed to getting the vaccine, but just won’t take the time to do it.
“It’s tough to describe because, unless you’re carrying me up the stairs or taking your best friend to the ER, it’s tough to tell somebody how bad in can be. But I just know, being a 22-year-old with post-COVID symptoms, you can’t do anything.’’