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Woman in Kentucky is COVID long-hauler; been battling symptoms for 16 months

Carlos Dennis, Ron DeSantis, Javier Crespo
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Posted at 4:39 PM, Jul 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-26 18:39:26-04

LEXINGTON — Many people get COVID-19 and recover with no issues. But for those people known as “long-haulers,” the symptoms don’t just go away.

Lisa Jensen is on month 16. Though she says she’s grateful to be alive, she’s spent the past year and a half learning how to navigate a new body and brain.

The 39-year-old single mom of three young boys contracted the virus before lockdowns shut down much of America. Her first symptoms appeared on March 7, 2020.

“They were so mild for the first ten days, I just wrote it off,” Jensen said. “You know, I thought I had a trifling little cold."

An active runner, rock climber, and yoga instructor Jensen was healthy. But despite surviving the virus, her debilitating symptoms have lingered since, including brain fog and fatigue. She still gets random rashes and body aches. Her heart now beats too fast when she sits up or stands.

“I can't work, right?” she told WLEX. “I'm applying for disability. I'm a single mom, and some days I can't take care of my kids. I'm not going to say that's a fate worse than death, but it's a tough fate."

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As the Delta variant spreads across the country, Jensen says she wants others to avoid her same situation and do their part to stop the spread.

“There will be new long-haulers,” she said. “More people will die. Some of those long-haulers will be kids. And that makes me really sad."

Jensen has received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

She understands that not everyone will get the vaccine, but for people who would rather risk getting COVID-19 than sign up for the shot, she says one day of her life might change their mind.

“There are so many fates besides death that are sad, and so many of us have lingering symptoms,” she said. “Even if you have just one symptom that lingers for six or seven months, that’s rough, you know?”

While Jensen is still not 100%, she says she's better than three months ago. She's even been able to rock climb, getting a glimpse of the person she's become in her long battle with the virus.

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“It’s made me stronger and softer,” she said. “I feel a lot more than I used to feel. I cry more than I used to cry. I feel deeper empathy for others than I used to feel. But I also have great trust in my own resilience."

According to Harvard Health, tens of thousands of Americans are dealing with lingering illnesses from COVID-19. Recent studies show 50 to 80% of survivors suffer symptoms three months after getting sick.

Jensen told us she wants those people to know they're not alone, so last July, she started a free weekly online newsletter for other long-haulers.

It’s called “Corona Cafe” and provides support and encouragement to a growing online community. Jensen has written more than 70 posts, all documenting her journey since last March.

Monday, President Joe Biden announced his administration would classify long-haul COVID-19 as a disability, giving people access to rights and resources from federal agencies.

Evelyn Schultz at WLEX first reported this story.