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'30-year-old in an 80-year-old's body': Edmonton nurse recalls 36-month case of long COVID


An Edmonton nurse is back on the job after years spent wondering if she would ever work again.

Stephanie Kendrick is one of hundreds of thousands of Canadians to contract long COVID, a disease that remains difficult to diagnose and tricky to treat.

A new report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine suggests long COVID is associated with more than 200 symptoms affecting nearly every organ system.

Those symptoms, the study said, were found to decrease physical and cognitive abilities for six months to upwards of two years after being infected.

For Kendrick, it was 36 months.

She was working on the COVID-19 unit at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in 2021 when she was infected. She went home with a fever one night, and returned the next morning in an ambulance.

"I couldn't say more than a couple words without gasping for breath," Kendrick said. "I honestly felt like a train had hit me."

Two weeks after testing positive, she knew something was wrong.

"I was having difficulty forming words," she said. "Getting out of bed, even to go to the washroom in the morning was a huge task.

"My oxygen levels were dipping … I wasn't getting better."

Between 2020 and June 2023, the Government of Canada reported 3.5 million Canadians who contracted COVID-19 had longer-term symptoms. Of those, around 100,000 were not able to return to work or school because of the illness. 

For the next year, Kendrick's life consisted of "a lot of appointments and a lot of couch," as she struggled with extreme fatigue, brain fog and low oxygen levels.

Reading and writing became difficult, and playing with her young nieces and nephews was out of the question.

"I felt like a 30-year-old in an 80-year-old's body," Kendrick said. "Sitting on the couch and knowing that I didn't have the energy to run around with them like I used to sent me into a very sad, sad place."

Stephanie Kendrick (right) says extreme fatigue prevented her from being able to play with her nieces and nephews. (Supplied)


Grace Lam is an adult respirologist at the University of Alberta Hospital.

Lam said the most recent data suggests around 11.5 per cent of patients recovering from acute COVID-19 will have persistent symptoms including brain fog, fatigue, heart rate dysregulation, and difficulty breathing.

While there are currently no tests to diagnose long COVID and no way to cure it, medications can be used to manage symptoms.

"Practitioners have had to use treatments off-label," Lam said.

"If you have pain, we know how to treat pain," she explained. "But it doesn't get at the root cause of why you have pain."

Kendrick said the diagnosis alone was enough to start helping.

"Knowing that it wasn't just in my head and I wasn't just being lazy … I think that's where my mindset was able to shift," she said.

Because long COVID can manifest in so many ways, Lam said defining and setting diagnostic criteria for the disease has been difficult.

The Canadian government reported in 2023 that more than 66.4 per cent of people with long COVID felt they did not receive adequate treatments or support when seeking health care for the condition.

Kendrick said she was fortunate to have a colleague who was treating long COVID patients and who accepted her as a patient.

Slowly, with the help of medications targeting her symptoms, Kendrick improved. But while she was feeling better, it would be another year before heart rate and oxygen levels stabilized enough to start back at work.

Three weeks ago, she walked back into the Royal Alexandra to punch in.

"I was starting to believe it was never going to happen," Kendrick said. "I honestly felt like a kid on Christmas morning."

For other people suffering from long COVID, Lam said there is hope in the form of research studies and clinical trials such as a local Reclaim trial.

"Patients are able to enroll and be able to access study drugs and all with the purpose of trying to improve long COVID," she added. "Being able to access these research opportunities almost becomes a bit of the treatment itself … people aren't being forgotten."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Nav Sangha Top Stories


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