MUSKEGON, Mich. — Life for Jill Bonthuis has been different ever since she was diagnosed with COVID-19 in April.
"The loss of breath and trying to do simple things, walking in from the parking lot at work, trying to vacuum at home. Pure exhaustion," Bonthuis told FOX 17 News. "I go to work and I come home and I'm pretty much done."
The 51-year-old mother and grandmother was exposed to coronavirus through her job as Executive Director of Pioneer Resources in Muskegon.
"We serve individuals with disabilities and we have residential homes and one of the individuals in our centers became symptomatic," she explained. "Even though I was in full PPP, But I was in the room while he was being tested. The only thing I didn't have on with goggles."
Bonthuis tested positive and immediately quarantined at home to begin the recovery process.
But months after clearing the virus, Bonthuis said COVID 19 is still causes her issues.
She identifies herself as a "COVID 19 Long Hauler", a term that's emerged amid the pandemic to describe those still experiencing significant health issues after surviving coronavirus.
"It's a litany of symptoms and I feel so bad even talking about the long list because it almost feels like I'm complaining, but you know it's impacted my life so significantly since then," she said. "I have a lot of fatigue. Forgetful...heart rate and blood pressure and oxygen levels that vary on a day to day basis in an hour to hour basis."
"I kept thinking I should be feeling better by now but I almost felt like I was feeling worse."
Dr. Andrew Jameson is the Division Chief of Infectious Diseases and Medical Director of Infection Control at Mercy Health St. Mary's.
He explained, "I think there's two different entities. Here you have the people that don't really have anything you can put your finger on that is really wrong. But they just feel bad. And then have other people that have real distinct diseases that kind of linger and cause persistent problems."
He said coronavirus could lead to problems in the lungs and brain.
"If you have a really severe cold and pneumonia, that definitely increases your chance of having some scarring in the lungs called fibrosis," he said. "Some people are super foggy, some people are just like lethargic or not. Right. And that can last a long time."
Dr. Jameson said in some cases, the heart may even be affected.
"People can have, where their heart doesn't pump as well. It's called myocarditis, that's an inflammation of the heart. That is definitely something we're seeing too."
As doctors continue to learn more about this novel virus, what may be most concerning about a COVID-19 diagnosis is how it affects everyone differently.
"This is a time when we should still buckle down and do all those things we've been talking about for months that we've all been sick of and don't want to do anymore," said Dr. Jameson. "It's time to kind of do that again. Because what you don't know is how your body will actually react."
Bonthuis said she's had to undergo heart monitoring, a breathing study, EKG and MRI; but still she's no closer to getting answers about what is going on in her body and how long it will last.
Once healthy and active, she said being forced to slow down has been difficult.
"What the challenge is, you know the doctors don't know enough about it, or how these long term effects can be handled to be able to provide something that can provide relief essentially right now," she said. "It's frustrating on the part of the person going through it... because you just don't know how long is this going to last. And is there something that's going to help me feel better or, you know, will I deal with this for the rest of my life."