COVID 'long-hauler' symptoms affecting 10-30% get official name

You've heard of COVID-19 'long-haulers' -- people who haven't fully recovered weeks or even months after first experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus. Now there is an official name for the illness. 

It's called post-acute sequelae or PASC for short. A Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin doctor said what's unusual is that you can't necessarily predict who is going to experience it.

"I really didn't think I was that sick," said Michael Banach.

Michael Banach

Michael and Sue Banach

In May 2020, Banach was doing yard work when he felt out of breath. 

"That Monday, I thought maybe I overdid it because I was really tired and weak and stayed home from work," said Banach.

Being a kidney and pancreas transplant recipient, he and his wife, Sue, called the doctor. The Waterford man tested positive for COVID-19, and as a precaution, he was asked to check into Froedtert Hospital.

"Slowly through that night, I remember coming in and out of it and getting more lack of awareness of what was going on around me, and that was where I just sort of lost everything as far as memory goes," said Banach.

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Banach would spend 20 days on a ventilator and six weeks in the hospital. 

"This was terrible for me to go through, but like I jokingly say, I could have died and not known it, but my wife was living it on the other end," said Banach.

Michael Banach

Michael Banach

When Banach was released in late June 2020, his road to recovery was only just beginning. 

"I couldn’t walk," said Banach. "I couldn’t use my hands. My muscles were all pretty much deteriorated for not using for such a long time. This is very real."

An electrician, Banach was out of commission until recently, taking on rigorous physical and occupational therapy -- but his journey to full health isn't over. 

"A lot of this is so unknown," said Dr. Julie Biller, MCW pulmonologist and professor of pulmonary disease.

Biller, who is also the medical director of Froedtert and MCW's Post COVID-19 Care Program, said while some 'long-haulers' like Banach spent time in the hopsital with COVID-19, many did not. 

Michael Banach

Michael and Sue Banach

"Many of them have been asymptomatic or have very mild COVID symptoms," said Biller.

She said common complaints include fatigue, brain fog and shortness of breath. She is also seeing an increase in anxiety and depression in post-COVID patients. 

"It's estimated that between 10 to 30% of people who have had COVID could be in this group with PASC," said Biller.

Help is available.

"I don't want people to continue to suffer silently," said Biller.

Biller suggests that if you are still experiencing symptoms of any kind eight weeks after infection with COVID-19 to contact your primary care doctor to explore treatments and therapies that may help. 

Meantime, Biller is encouraging 'long-haulers' to get vaccinated. 

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