Joplin cardiologist sees COVID survivors recover from long-term cardiovascular health issues

JOPLIN, Mo. – A year ago, 44-year-old Joplin native and resident Jennifer Parks lived a fairly normal life.

“I literally worked 48 to 56 hours a week, I took care of two kid,” explains Parks.

But since getting COVID-19 in November of last year, it’s been a much different story.

“I have to be dependent on other people,” says Parks.

She spent 33 days on a ventilator, two months in the hospital after getting off the vent, and then some time at a nursing home in Seneca.

“I had to move in with my mom because I had a stroke.. a COVID induced stroke in the hospital,” says Parks.

Now things have been so much different. She can walk some using a walker, but is wheelchair bound most of the time. She also has a number of physical long-term side effects from COVID, including cardiovascular issues like blood clots in her legs and feet.

“I went from taking zero pills, to taking seven pills every morning,” says Parks. “Like last night, my leg was on fire. And legs and my feet were on fire. There wasn’t anything I could do about it.”

Freeman Cardiologist Dr. Robert Stauffer explains cardiovascular issues are becoming a more common thing for people with “Long COVID Syndrome.”

“This effects all patients. Whether they’re 13-year-olds, or they’re 70-year-olds or their 40-year-olds,” says Dr. Stauffer. “They present with a lot of symptoms of shortness of breath, chest pain, what they call brain fog. They’re just not 100 percent.”

But another thing that he’s noticing — a lot of them are being able to make a full recovery.

“I saw a cross country runner, for example, who could run ten miles without even thinking twice. He couldn’t walk across campus after COVID for about three months. And then after that, I saw him back another time, he got completely better. So, I think there’s a lot of hope out there if you’re one of those people who have this sort of long COVID syndrome,” says Dr. Stauffer. “Some of these patients, they got really sick, bounced back very quick. Some patients with mild to moderate disease, they don’t bounce back as quick. And the one thing I just tell patients is, be patient.”

That is good news for many who are still living with symptoms that impact their way of life. Unfortunately for Parks, since COVID hit her so incredibly hard, it’s looking more and more like that won’t be the case.

“It’s take this pill, and take this pill until it stops working, and then we’ll find something else. Mentally, it’s a rough thing. Like I said, I’m 45 and I have to be dependent on people,” says Parks. “You thank God every day that you’re alive. I don’t put off things because you never know when it’s gonna be your last day.”

“There is a small subset of patients who had COVID pneumonia or myocarditis, things like that, that will have long-term effects from this virus and will have to deal with that in the years to come. So those are the patients we have to be really careful about,” says Dr. Stauffer. “That’s the reason to get vaccinated though. If you look at patients who got vaccinated, they tend not to get Long COVID Syndrome. So, one more reason to get vaccinated cause this is not something that you can say, ‘I’m gonna tough it out for two or three days and be better.’ You don’t want to deal with the situation where it’s months later and you can’t do anything.”