After COVID paralyzed his diaphragm, a Kansas father finds help in Philadelphia

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Monday, July 8, 2024
Kansas father finds help in Philly for painful COVID complication
When a Kansas father couldn't breathe without excruciating pain, he found a solution at Temple Health in Philadelphia.

HIGHLAND, Kansas (WPVI) -- COVID-19 has created long-term health problems for some Americans.

It left a Kansas dad barely able to breathe without excruciating pain.

Fortunately, he found a solution in Philadelphia.

"I love being, playing softball," says Joe Potter of Highland, Kansas.

But two years ago, COVID benched Joe with a stabbing pain in back of his chest every time he breathed.

It kept him from almost everything - even sleep.

"It was so severe that I was running on minimal amounts of sleep because I could not get comfortable, no way," he vividly recalls.

Potter's doctors struggled for a diagnosis.

At their suggestion and with his wife's research, he came to Dr. Charles Bakhos of the Temple Lung Center, who found the cause.

"My diaphragm, both my left and my right side, were paralyzed," he says.

"I was trying so hard to get air that I was collapsing my trachea," Joe adds.

Dr. Bakhos says viruses like COVID can attack the nerve controlling the diaphragm and our breath.

"I have personally seen more diaphragm dysfunction, weakness, and paralysis after the COVID-19 pandemic," the doctor observes, saying he now sees, "11, 12, 13" a month.

The nerve can also be injured in accidents, gunshot wounds or surgery.

Dr. Bakhos says the paralysis usually shows on x-rays.

"It cannot be missed," Dr. Bakhos said. "The diaphragm would be very elevated, instead of just above the stomach."

For mild symptoms, losing weight or having pulmonary rehabilitation can help.

For more severe cases, plication surgery is best.

Dr. Bakhos adjusts the diaphragm using robotic instruments and high-definition cameras.

"We suture it onto itself, to reshape it, make it more stiff and flat, to allow the lungs to expand more," he explains.

After operations for each lung, nine months apart, Potter's back at work and softball.

"I've been back the whole time since, with no restrictions," he says with a big smile.

And lifting his daughter after her ball team's recent championship was a breeze.

Dr. Bakhos says there's a misconception among some doctors that nothing can be done for diaphragm paralysis. But he says there are options.