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Donald Kehr was ready to put COVID-19 behind him.
After testing positive for the virus in April 2020, the Elmwood Park resident stayed home for about a month to recover. Yet when the 62-year-old returned to his supervisory position at a Chicago manufacturing plant, he continued to feel fatigued—to the point of exhaustion. Then, in July 2020, he was hospitalized with pneumonia.
Seeking HopeA longtime patient at Swedish Hospital, Kehr’s primary care physician recommended cardiopulmonary rehabilitation to help his patient work through lingering COVID-19 symptoms, including fatigue and shortness of breath.
While Kehr was initially reluctant, he soon changed his mind thanks to gentle persuasion from Swedish Exercise Physiologist Courtney Carlson. She felt he was a perfect candidate for the hospital’s new rehab program to help a growing number of “long COVID (or long-haul COVID)” patients manage persistent health challenges.
“We know that exercise is medicine, and it does help,” explained Carlson, co-leader of a team of professionals who tap into their cardiopulmonary rehab expertise to guide COVID-19 recovery patients back to health. Kehr was the first participant to graduate from the Swedish 12-week program and is quick to express gratitude for his gradual return to health.
“In the beginning, it was very tiring, but I have the drive to get better,” said Kehr. “I was tired of feeling tired.”
Measurable ImpactData from the program, supported by Swedish Hospital Foundation, is still being analyzed. But initial results show that the 12-week exercise program helps patients improve functional capacity, shortness of breath and overall quality of life.
“This is a new medical phenomenon, so it’s a learning experience for patients and caregivers alike,” added Carlson, “and it’s been great that we’re seeing a positive impact.”
One of the goals is for patients to continue exercising on their own after completing the program, something Kehr is happily pursuing regularly at the hospital’s renowned fitness facility Galter LifeCenter.
“Courtney and the whole group are great, and made me feel so comfortable,” noted Kehr. “I’ve made slow and steady progress. They knew how to push me without pushing me too hard. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”
Here When You Need UsIn addition to the Swedish team, NorthShore Rehab Services also offers a six-week group program to help COVID recovery patients regain strength and stamina.
“Our multidisciplinary team includes licensed physical, speech and occupational therapists who address fatigue, lack of energy, brain fog and other lingering symptoms,” said Physical Therapist Polina Burshteyn. NorthShore’s Integrative Medicine team also offers group acupuncture after the class for additional support.
“We hear over and over from these patients that they just don’t feel like themselves,” emphasized Burshteyn. “Our program provides the resources they need to feel better.”
The program includes strategies for safely resuming exercise, including deep breathing, along with ways to conserve energy and improve memory function.
“We want people who are still suffering from the effects of COVID to reach out to us, added Burshteyn. “We can help facilitate their recovery.”