Some Signs of Recovery From Severe Covid Lung Damage

In two early studies, researchers said some patients showed signs of healing just weeks after leaving the hospital.

By Lina Zeldovich

When Annie Coissieux tried to stand up for the first time after weeks in the hospital battling Covid-19, she couldn’t get on her feet.

“My first day after I.C.U., I couldn’t leave the chair without the help of two nurses,” she recalled from her home in the Drôme region in southeast France. She felt breathless and exhausted after walking for just a few minutes. “Going to the bathroom was a real mission that required time and effort.”

Ms. Coissieux, 78, was sent to a nearby pulmonary rehabilitation clinic, Dieulefit Santé, where a physical therapist taught her breathing exercises to help restore her lungs and the muscles involved in breathing.

When she went home three weeks later, Ms. Coissieux could walk close to 1,000 feet, albeit with a walker. As she continued exercising at home, she grew stronger.

“Now I can walk 500 meters with no walker,” or about 1,600 feet, said the retired schoolteacher. “I can walk up the stairs at my cousin’s house.” And while she still feels fatigued in the afternoons, she cycles on her indoor bike and swims.

Lingering shortness of breath and diminished stamina have dogged many Covid patients whose lungs were viciously attacked by the coronavirus. Early in the pandemic, doctors worried that Covid might cause irreversible damage leading to lung fibrosis — progressive scarring in which lung tissue continues to die even after the infection is gone.

According to the World Health Organization, about 80 percent of patients have mild to moderate symptoms, 15 percent develop a severe form of the disease and roughly five percent like Ms. Coissieux escalate to critical.

While global or nationwide statistics on post-Covid lung recovery are not yet available, hospitals and clinics are assessing their cases.

About 20 percent of hospitalized Covid patients wound up in intensive care units, where many needed ventilators, according to. Dr. Gabriel C. Lockhart, a pulmonologist at National Jewish Health, a respiratory hospital in Denver, who also volunteered at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Of the ones who get intubated at least two-thirds will survive but will require some physical therapy,” he said.

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