Just Breathe

Rehabilitation at Fort Sanders Regional helps COVID-19 survivor

Elizabeth White and one of her exercise physiologists at Fort Sanders Regional CROP/PROP
Exercise physiologist Mandy Marshall (left) watches closely as Elizabeth White (right) pushes through exercises on an arm ergometer, building her stamina and upper body strength.

It takes a lot to bring down a strong woman like Elizabeth White. She is an energetic family coordinator at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, mom and full-time student.

“I woke up one morning with a headache and I couldn’t hold my head up,” White says. “Then I started running a fever the next day.” She then tested positive for COVID-19.

COVID-19 can be a force powerful enough to weaken even the strongest resolve. White spent eight days in the hospital at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, and after COVID-19 and pneumonia finally left her body, an oxygen tank made the trip home alongside her. White is considered a “long-hauler,” or someone who still has side effects long after the virus is gone.

For White, it meant a change in life as she knew it. She couldn’t even walk to her bathroom without getting winded, and her lungs required supplemental oxygen at two liters per minute. COVID-19 had taken the wind out of her sails.

Fort Sanders Regional Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation (CROP/PROP) is helping her fight long-term effects of the virus and reclaim her quality of life.

Elizabeth White and one of her exercise physiologists at Fort Sanders Regional CROP/PROP
Exercise physiologist Emily Hunley (left) guides Elizabeth White (right) through rehab exercises. Hunley looks forward to helping more COVID-19 long-haulers in the future.

“The people who are the long-haulers, they need our help,” says Emily Hunley, ACSM, an exercise physiologist for Fort Sanders Regional CROP/PROP. “We want to help them get moving again, feeling better and seeing that they can progress and can start to get back to their normal.”

CROP/PROP at Fort Sanders Regional offers medically supervised exercise programs that are custom designed for each patient. The process begins with assessments from a nurse and an exercise physiologist.

Patients start slowly and work their way up as their strength and endurance grows. For White, the process began with six minutes on a treadmill. Soon she worked up to eight minutes on the treadmill and kept progressing.

White’s exercise regimen has also included intensive exercises with hand weights, riding the stationary bike and using an arm ergometer that’s powered by the patient’s hands, arms and upper body.

White experienced some weight gain during the days when she couldn’t be up and active. She worked with a CROP/PROP dietitian who helped her regain healthy eating habits.

“I love pulmonary rehab,” White says. “The people I work with there are so helpful. Everyone is so friendly and encouraging. I really appreciate that.”

White is still on oxygen, but she’s down to one liter instead of two, and she doesn’t need it the way she used to. When she first came home from the hospital, she couldn’t even walk between rooms without becoming winded. Seeing her move on the cardiopulmonary rehab equipment today, one would never guess the way she once struggled to breathe.

“We couldn’t ask for a better patient,” Hunley says. “She’s willing to try anything and willing to let us help her through it.”

White continues to move forward with a more active lifestyle and a song in her heart. She is grateful that’s she’s no longer just a COVID-19 long-hauler. She is now counted among those who are making progress toward recovering from the effects of the virus, one day at a time.

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