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Three years later and for some COVID continues having lasting effects

Four people standing together, the tallest in the center is Pablo Moreno with his oxygen tank, the others are members of the care team and are wearing scrubs and surgical masks. Pablo’s arms are around the others in a group hug pose.
Andrea Figueroa
KUNR Public Radio
Pablo Moreno standing with his arms slung across members of the pulmonary care team. He is wearing a yellow mask and his oxygen tank is in the bottom right of the photo.

March 5th marked three years since the first COVID case in Nevada. In that time, treatments have emerged to give relief to patients now suffering the effects of long COVID.

The wheels on Pablo Moreno’s oxygen tank made a rustling sound as he entered a room just off Renown’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation Center’s main area. He’s also diabetic and dealing with PTSD–all things that can further complicate recovery.

Like many others, he still suffers from the effects of COVID. Before he was sick, he didn’t think COVID could be that serious, but then he found himself in the hospital for 30 days and intubated for the entire stay.

His eyes filled with tears as he described what he woke up to. He was no longer the healthy, heavyset man he was before being hospitalized. And he recalled not being able to be a father and husband to his family. Moreno said he felt worthless and even had thoughts of suicide, but his children were what kept him going.

He credited the professionals at Renown’s Pulmonary Rehab Center for having brought him out of those dark times. To start, they helped him carry less equipment around.

“But I went from four liters here, the Renown Pulmonary Rehab to, as you can see, I'm at one liter right now,” he said.

When Moreno first came down with COVID, he didn’t have health insurance. And the oxygen he relied on caused a huge financial burden. He was paying about $25 per tank.

What’s helped Moreno on his long road to recovery is the pulmonary rehab he has been receiving at Renown’s Center for Advanced Medicine. But like so many others, getting on a waiting list for a pulmonary program was a struggle due to demand being so high. The rehab was difficult and he said the first two weeks in the program were the worst. 

“I never knew two pounds in each hand doing curls would make me that sore. I kind of was laughing at the time–was like, ‘Oh, this is nothing’–but you do it in such a slow motion that in two weeks, I was hurting,” Moreno said.

In addition to the weights, he works on different breathing techniques to retrain and strengthen his diaphragm. Just being able to fully exhale can be an uphill battle for COVID patients, Dr. Farrah Medhani-Lovely, a pulmonologist at Renown said. 

“You can have something called air trapping. So when you take a breath in and you breathe out, not all the air comes out. And so then there's a little stack of old air in the lungs,” she said.

The process repeats itself with each breath, until there is so much stacked air that there is not enough space for more. That’s when patients feel like an elephant is sitting on their chest, she said. She also explained that COVID breaks us down by manipulating the immune system, making long COVID recovery that much harder.

“It was once described as a burglar that comes into the house and is looking for something particular, but can't find it. So it opens up all the drawers and throws all the clothes out and makes a hot mess of everything. So that's what COVID does. So the lungs, unfortunately, are the recipient of that hot mess, that's the house,” Dr. Medhani-Lovely said.

Moreno shared some advice for others dealing with a severe case of COVID.

“Just don't give up because sooner or later you're going to come across a place like Renown’s pulmonary rehab. That totally changed my life. It's a new beginning for me,” he said.

In spite of the pain, Moreno said the work was worth it. After his nine week session, going twice a week for two hours each class, Moreno can now walk three to four miles per hour on a treadmill, and make it across the room to his family. He said he even feels ready to re-enter the workforce once he can leave the rustling tank behind.

For more information on Renown’s Pulmonary Rehab Center visit renown.org/pulmonaryrehab.

As a note of disclosure, Renown is a financial supporter of KUNR.

Andrea has been a host at KUNR since 2022 and joined the news team as well. She enjoys working as a reporter focusing on health and under-served communities.