COVID-19 survivors share stories of long and tough recovery

Posted at 8:41 AM, Jul 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-29 08:41:36-04

TROY, Mich. (WXYZ) — The state says that 872,163 people have recovered from COVID-19 in Michigan as of July 28. But what exactly does that mean?

Health Officials categorize people as recovered 30 days after they get sick with COVID-19. If they later pass due to complications from the virus they are removed from the “recovered” category.

Many with severe cases of COVID-19 still have symptoms connected to the illness months later. They are known as COVID-19 long haulers.

“I just want to be normal again,” said Kristi Kowalski, a COVID-19 long-hauler who lives in Troy.

Kristi Kowalski was a fitness coach, ran six half marathons, and worked out daily before she got sick with COVID-19 just before Thanksgiving. The then 29-year-old thought she could fight it at home. The day after Thanksgiving she crashed at the hospital.

“They intubated me and I don’t remember anything until January at that point,” said Kowalski.

Kowalski says it is hard to think about what her family went through during the weeks she was intubated.

“Just knowing that my mom cried every day. She called me every day. I mean. I couldn’t talk to her. We were on FaceTime. I didn’t even know it,” said Kowalski.

Kristi was airlifted from Beaumont Troy to Beaumont Royal Oak. She was placed on an ECMO machine. It oxygenated her blood so her lungs could rest.

After a 68-day stay in the hospital, she finally went home but her healing is not over. She remained on oxygen until about three weeks ago. Breathing at times is a struggle. She wonders when she will truly feel as if she has recovered.

“I think the hardest thing is nobody knows. Nobody knows. Nobody has been through this long-term,” she said.

“There has been a bit of brain fog. I have had to work very hard to read, concentrate prepare my messages,” said Pastor Michael Harding, of First Baptist Troy.

Pastor Harding got sick with COVID-19 last year and says he is grateful he is getting stronger and sharper every day. There was a time when he said goodbye to his family.

He is grateful to survive, unlike some people he cared about, to face the after-effects.

“I went from a relatively healthy person to, in five days, almost no chance to live,” said Harding.

Harding says he believes medicines he received through a clinical trial at Beaumont Health saved his life.

“You might have a chronic lung problem or chronic heart program the rest of your life. We don’t know,” said Dr. Annas Aljassem, Director of Functional Pain & Rehabilitation at Beaumont Health.

Dr. Aljassem is caring for many COVID-19 long haulers. He says some long haulers are developing new symptoms, such as heart inflammation, months after their illness that he believes could be connected to the inflammatory response the body has sometimes to the COVID-19 virus.

“What we do know is that if you get the vaccine, the likelihood of ending up in the hospital having that severe reaction, the likelihood of your immune system creating chaos is exponentially lower,” said Dr. Aljassem.

“I don’t ever want anyone to go through what I had to go through,” said Kowalski.

“Please have much more concern about the virus than you do about the vaccine. 50,000 times more concern,” said Pastor Harding, referencing statements from Dr. Marty Makary of John Hopkins.

Makary has said by his analysis vaccines are about 50,000 times safer than the virus.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

Visit our The Rebound Detroit, a place where we are working to help people impacted financially from the coronavirus. We have all the information on everything available to help you through this crisis and how to access it.