Some COVID-19 patients still regaining strength months after returning negative test result

Some COVID-19 patients still regaining strength months after returning negative test result

ROCK HILL, S.C. (WBTV) - Some severely ill patients with COVID-19 are requiring in-patient therapy after they are discharged from the hospital.

Encompass Health in Rock Hill is an in-patient, acute, rehabilitation hospital.

Director of Therapy Operations Matthew Steinmetz says they typically treat patients who were discharged from the hospital after cardiac failure, strokes, multi-trauma, or hip fractures. This year, they started rehabilitating patients recovering from COVID-19.

“In some of these people’s cases, they are in the hospital for three weeks, not getting out of bed because they are really sick, and they are very weak when they present to us,” Steinmetz said.

Pearl Lemieux, a paramedic with Piedmont Medical EMS in Rock Hill, spent nearly a month in the hospital battling coronavirus and was discharged to Encompass Health for rehab.

WBTV was there as she walked out of the facility under her own power on May 7.

Nearly three months after her release, she is still gaining her strength.

“She’s stronger every day. She’s not strong enough yet to come back to the truck but that’s absolutely her goal,” PMC EMS Director Eric Morrison said.

Steinmetz says most patients are spending about two weeks at Encompass Health. They are receiving physical therapy, occupational therapy, and sometimes speech therapy for about three hours each day.

“Physical therapy really focuses on getting people up and walking, climbing stairs. All things they would do outside in the community: getting out of bed, getting in and out of a car,” Steinmetz said. “Occupational Therapy is going to focus more on activities related to daily living: getting dressed, grooming, putting on your shoes.

For COVID-19 patients, Steinmetz said they have noticed speech therapy is especially important for patient recovery.

“We’re finding some people on ventilators are having trouble with problem-solving, attention, short term memory. Where they seem to find in a conversation but when you dig in a little bit… we had a lady who couldn’t balance a checkbook. She was completely fine 6 weeks earlier but now couldn’t figure out how to balance her checkbook,” Steinmetz said.

Steinmetz said they are used to caring for the elderly since it is most common for that population to experience heart attacks, strokes and severe cases of COVID-19.

However, he said they have also cared for younger patients who were intubated from the virus. And in some cases, patients who recovered from the virus and didn’t need rehab, are returning to rehab later because of a post-COVID stroke or blood-clot.

“We’re seeing people in their 40s and 50s. These are everyday people that had full-time jobs. (They) Didn’t feel well, tested positive, and next thing you know its three weeks later and they’re completely debilitated,” Steinmetz said.

“We tend to think of illness as over and you’re better. This seems to be for those people that are really sick, particularly to the point where you’re intubated, you don’t realize how weak your body during that time period. So you’re having to learn a lot of functions over again,” Morrison said.

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