Demand increases for post-COVID-19 rehab services

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As the pandemic continues, some rehabilitation centers are creating new programs for COVID-19 patients dealing with effects long after recovery.

NovaCare Rehabilitation recognized early in the pandemic there would be a whole new type of patient, so they created a new program

"People call me a miracle, people call me rock star," said Dianne Shields, 64, of Lansdale, Pennsylvania.

She has been working hard for the past seven months to get her strength back. In April, it started as extreme fatigue, a sore throat and a high fever. She tested positive for COVID-19 and within days was put on a ventilator, waking up almost two weeks later.

"I didn't remember any of it, I wasn't able to hold a phone, couldn't feed myself, my legs, I couldn't move my legs, my arms were very weak," she said.

Dianne spent the next month in the hospital and another at in-patient rehabilitation.

Now, since July, she's been coming to NovaCare to continue rehab as an out-patient.

Alan Evans, Vice President of Clinical Education at NovaCare, said: "I didn't expect it, the demand to be so great," but so far nationwide they've treated about 800 post-COVID patients.

He says at first, most were like Dianne - deconditioned due to time in the ICU, but now things are shifting.

"Now were starting to see this thing long COVID or long-haul COVID," he said.

He says even patients with mild illness are experiencing lingering effects - the most common: fatigue, pain including headache, joint and muscle pain, and shortness of breath. "With even the easiest, normal activity which might be getting in and out of a car, going up the stairs, going to the grocery store people are exhausted by that," Evans said.

The program aims to address all after-effects.

Dianne works with several therapists, monitoring her vital signs along the way. Her goal is to get back to where she was, working as a dialysis nurse and fortunately, she's on her way.

She's gone from a wheelchair to a walker to using a cane.

"I feel so much stronger than what I was," she said.

She urges everyone to take the virus the seriously, especially now.

Alan Evans say they anticipate the volume of post-COVID patients to continue to grow.
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