Author: Linda Cruz, M.D., chief medical officer, Providence Medical Group – Oregon
Samantha Stevenson-Stowell had just received her second COVID vaccine in late January. The physician assistant was feeling off but thought she was only getting a cold. Within days the active 37-year-old cyclist, runner and mother of twin 6-year-olds was in Providence St. Vincent Medical Center with oxygen levels dipping into the 80s and diagnosed with COVID.
After a week of hospitalization and treatments with supplemental oxygen, steroids, antivirals and anti-coagulants, she was discharged home. She needed supplemental oxygen for another two months at home where she battled two bouts of pneumonia, a kidney infection and sustained arrythmia. In addition, she struggled with fatigue so intense she could hardly keep her eyes open.
In late spring she began experiencing weakness on her right side and inflammation in her heart. A month ago she began losing her hair, and a scalp biopsy found COVID marker cells. “It is all so frustrating,” said Stevenson-Stowell. “I was at 40 percent of my old self – on a good day.”
With the help of her doctor, she found a supportive team at Providence’s newly opened COVID Recovery Clinic, led by Carmen Kendall, M.D., a Providence family practice physician since 2005.
When a patient contacts the clinic, Dr. Kendall goes through their chart, reviewing every previous assessment, test and specialist visit to create an individualized care plan for recovery. The most common health concerns are fatigue, brain fog, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat and nerve issues.
Before opening the clinic, Dr. Kendall and colleagues researched long-haul COVID clinics around the country. Based on that review, Providence developed a multidisciplinary approach encompassing physical, speech and occupational therapies, behavioral health, medical nutrition and clinical pharmacy, and involving specialties such as neurology, cardiology, pulmonology and neuropsychiatry as needed.
A key element of the treatment is supportive, gentle physical therapy. Since several body systems have been compromised and are sensitive to overexertion, the goal of therapy is to improve function slowly. Physical therapists help the patient focus on breathing, relaxation, pacing and energy conservation. They use supine aerobics to lessen the strain on the heart and begin rebuilding strength.
The clinic opened in May and currently serves nearly 40 patients, ranging in age from 14 to 78. The majority are younger women who were active and healthy before COVID, like Stevenson-Stowell who says she’s starting to feel better and believes the physical therapy is helping.
The physician assistant also believes getting the COVID vaccine saved her life. She tested positive just as she got her second Moderna vaccine. She knows even partial protection from the vaccine was key.
“I firmly believe if I hadn’t got that first dose, I would not be alive,” she said. “That first vaccination gave my body the tools it needed to fight the virus. That first vaccine saved my life.”
For more information
Providence’s COVID Recovery Clinic: 971-326-8718
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