Some COVID-19 survivors lose ability to walk and must relearn motor skills

  • For patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19, surviving the disease may just the start of their troubles.
  • Hospitals are reporting that survivors are struggling from cognitive impairments and a loss of motor skills, including the ability to walk.
  • At one hospital in Barcelona, patients are trying to stay optimistic during their monthslong recoveries.
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Coronavirus patients are discovering that surviving their hospital stay could just their first challenge.

As research into the coronavirus continues, scientists are discovering lingering effects of COVID-19, including a loss of basic motor skills and the ability to walk.

Doctors at the Vall d’Hebron Hospital in Barcelona are witnessing these struggles firsthand, reporting that coronavirus patients can take months to recover. Judith Sanchez, chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the hospital, told Reuters she’s seen patients “who could not move an arm, a leg” and who couldn’t walk or speak after recovering from COVID-19.

“These can be neurological, respiratory, motor, and psychological as well,” she said. “Many patients develop fear, anxiety, with post-traumatic post-ICU disorders.”

While many patients here spent weeks in the ICU, they developed blood clots in their lungs that then led to strokes. So medical professionals are monitoring all possible complications from the moment patients arrive at the hospital to the time they are discharged.

Many COVID patients here also suffered from inflammation in the brain — “it doesn’t let them think, they’re slow, they don’t remember things, they have memory loss,” Sanchez said.

Sixty-two-year-old Daniel Catey, for example, spent 21 days in the ICU in an induced coma. He had several strokes.

“I was unable to move the left half of my body — arm, leg — even a millimeter, and then I had several ailments in my right leg and also in my coccyx,” Catey told Reuters.

After receiving post-COVID rehabilitation at the hospital, he’s now able to walk and talk again.

Another survivor, 67-year-old Ramon Fite, is in rehab at the hospital, practicing his motor skills by rolling an exercise ball across a hospital bed and bouncing tennis balls back and forth with doctors.

“The truth is that I am very happy, because initially the forecast, according to the doctor, for recovery was up to a year,” Fite told Reuters. “Since I am a positive person, this already fills me with satisfaction.”

Despite the difficulties in dealing with the pandemic, Sanchez says as patients get better, medical staff get a boost.

In Spain, health officials flattened the curve, allowing medical experts to focus on the rehabilitation of its survivors. However, the Catalonia region, where Barcelona is located, is experiencing a new surge in cases that has forced officials to implement a new round of social distancing measures.

Meanwhile, in the United States, cases continue to climb and ICU beds are filling up.

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