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Rethinking COVID-19 recovery: Marathon, not a sprint

FILE - In this July 6, 2020, file photo, a ventilator helps a COVID-19 patient breath inside the Coronavirus Unit in a Houston hospital. Hospital data related to the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. will now be collected by a private technology firm, rather than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  a move the Trump administration says will speed up reporting but one that concerns some public health leaders. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
FILE - In this July 6, 2020, file photo, a ventilator helps a COVID-19 patient breath inside the Coronavirus Unit in a Houston hospital. Hospital data related to the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. will now be collected by a private technology firm, rather than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a move the Trump administration says will speed up reporting but one that concerns some public health leaders. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

It’s called post-intensive care unit syndrome, or PICU, and prior to the pandemic, many of us may never have heard of it. But patients who survive an extended stay in an intensive care unit on a ventilator may have a number of unique health challenges to overcome.

For 33-year-old Robert Hardy, coaching his son D’yon means the world to him. But just a few months ago, Hardy spiked a fever. Over four or five days his health tanked. Finally, he called 911.

“Was going down my steps at the apartment, walking past my truck. And next thing I know, I woke up in the hospital with a tube in my mouth,” recalled Hardy.

Hardy had COVID. He was on a ventilator and in a coma for 16 days. When he woke up, he had no idea what had happened and no idea what was yet to come, starting with a blood clot in his knee.

“Physical therapy came in the room and got me out of the bed and I’m thinking I’m going to walk to the bathroom on my own and legs couldn’t walk,” Hardy said.

Dr. Babar Khan developed the critical care recovery center model more than a decade ago. He says after patients are discharged some physical symptoms may take months or longer to improve.

“It can be up to a year; up to two years before certain ICU survivors really can go back to their functioning that they were doing before,” explained Khan, a critical care physician at Regenstrief Institute at Indiana University.

“Sometimes I get frustrated because, you know, before this situation, I was healthy, having fun with my kids and doing everything I wanted to do,” Hardy said.

But he is thankful to be here and knows he needs to walk before he can jump, shoot, and run.

Khan said there are about 20 academic centers across the country treating survivors in ICU recovery centers much like the one at Indiana University. Many hospitals are now shifting their model of care to address all of the physical, social, and emotional concerns facing recovering COVID patients like memory problems, depression and anxiety.