'There's no end in sight': N.B.-born woman still suffering COVID symptoms 9 months on

·3 min read
Kelli Franklin has experienced hair loss and loss of pigment in her hair as post-COVID conditions.  (Submitted by Kelli Franklin - image credit)
Kelli Franklin has experienced hair loss and loss of pigment in her hair as post-COVID conditions. (Submitted by Kelli Franklin - image credit)

Barely one year ago, Fredericton-born Kelli Franklin was a healthy 35-year-old working as a physiotherapist in Calgary.

Then she was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Nine months later, Franklin is still dealing with post-COVID symptoms and a quality of life that has changed drastically and indefinitely.

"This illness has taken so much from me," she said. "It's taken my job, it's taken my relationships with all of my clients and my family and my friends, my passions, my hobbies."

Franklin's symptoms began in December 2020, with a sore throat and congestion.

They quickly worsened and she began experiencing chest pain, difficulty sleeping, shortness of breath and an elevated heart rate.

Submitted by Kelli Franklin
Submitted by Kelli Franklin

She expected the symptoms would pass relatively quickly.

"I thought being young, healthy and quite active I would just be sick for a week or two," she said.

She began postponing appointments with her clients and tried to remain optimistic.

But as the months dragged on, the hoped-for full recovery didn't happen.

Post-COVID, Franklin has continued to experience a range of symptoms and conditions, including severe fatigue, respiratory issues and hair loss.

"I noticed that every single system in my body was being affected," said Franklin.

The change to her hair was dramatic.

Franklin used to have long, curly, red hair. But since December, it has been falling out in chunks, and the pigment of her once-bright hair is now gone.

"It was like another part of me was taken away," she said.

Franklin said she made several trips to the emergency room and many doctor's appointments, doing her own research to try to understand her condition after she was told there aren't any treatments for it.

Every day is a challenge, she said, "with no end in sight."

Submitted by Kelli Franklin
Submitted by Kelli Franklin

Symptoms won't go away overnight, says expert

Dr. Angela Cheung, a doctor and senior scientist with the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute, said that although some progress has been made, the understanding and treatment of long-COVID is still evolving.

Standard treatments for post-viral illnesses have helped some patients fully recover, said Cheung, who specializes in COVID research and has co-led studies around long-haulers.

"We have been pretty successful in treating patients so that their symptoms improve, and some don't have the symptoms anymore," she said.

There are over 200 symptoms associated with all post-viral illnesses.

Cheung said hair loss is a common symptom for any illness because it's directly related to stress.

"Hair is something quite sensitive to illness and stress, so we tend to lose our hair when we're not well."

Cheung estimates that 10 to 50 per cent of COVID-19 cases experience post-COVID conditions.

"It is not a very precise estimate … I think 10 per cent is on the low end 50 per cent is on the high end, probably the truth lies between those two numbers," she said.

University Health Network
University Health Network

Treatments vary from case to case depending on what symptoms the patient has.

Cheung said people experiencing symptoms will require treatment to recover.

Her advice to Franklin and others who are struggling with long-COVID is to be patient, both with the recovery and with themselves.

"I always tell my patients that it will take time and it will take work, they need to be kind to themselves, " she said.

"It's not like you wake up the next morning and everything is gone."

Meanwhile, Franklin is trying to remain positive in the face of an unknown future.

These days, she rarely leaves the house, hasn't been able to work and doesn't have enough energy to indulge in even such simple, everyday pleasures as watching television or making a cup of coffee in the morning.

But she is hoping her story can help raise awareness of how bad COVID can be, of the toll it has taken on her and others' lives, and of the need for more and continued research into treatments for long-haulers.

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