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'I feel decades older' | Charlotte COVID long-haulers still face issues long after facing the virus

An avid runner says he's no longer up to his usual athletic level, while an author says she's glad she stepped away from her old role in the ER.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The COVID-19 pandemic has wracked just about everyone in every way possible. Being more aware of our personal hygiene habits, thinking about attending packed concerts, and the well-being of our loved ones don't even begin to scratch the surface of what is now in many minds moving forward.

But for some people, their dealings with the virus aren't close to over.

Kimmery Martin is a Charlotte-based author; her book, "Doctors and Friends", was finished before the pandemic and published in November 2021. The book itself follows a group of doctors facing their own pandemic, though Martin doesn't need to crack open the pages of her story to discuss what COVID-19 has been like.

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Martin, who is a former emergency room doctor and a mother of three, tested positive for the virus early on in the pandemic, in June 2020. Since then, she's been living with the long-haul symptoms that have plagued her to this day.

"I feel decades older in terms of my exercise tolerance and stamina, and the way my body feels is a lot worse," she said.

Martin notes her blood pressure and heart rate are still not settled either -- if it gets too high or too low, she gets light-headed and exhausted. Another side effect: she lost her sense of smell for a while. She regained it, but it's not good news at all.

"The world basically reeks to me still," she said.

Martin's grateful she can now focus on her writing; she's stepped back from her job as an ER doctor, and believes being in a job that requires her to be on her feet all the time would not be good for her.

But being up and going is part of Aaron Dodge's lifestyle. Like Martin, he caught COVID-19 when he was 34 years old and is among the estimated 25-35% of patients still dealing with lingering symptoms long after the CDC says they should have recovered, even for people who were initially asymptomatic. For Dodge, not knowing has been the worst part of his experience.

"All the unknowns, not understanding what was going on with my body," he said.

Dodge is an avid runner and lifelong athlete. He loves preparing for marathons and staying active. While he was only out of commission for a few months, he's still facing heart palpitations, reduced lung capacity, and major fatigue.

"I'd have two cups of coffee and then I would have to tell my team I have to lay down," he said.

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The day-to-day struggle for Dodge has stacked up, and it's meant he hasn't been able to run as much as he wants to. The physical effects have also taken a mental toll on him.

"I try to run two half-marathons a year, so to be knocked on my but at 34 -- it was very hard for me physically," he said. "I had a little bit of depression."

The good news for Dodge: he was able to run a half-marathon last summer, the first he could do since recovering from COVID-19. But Martin is still in the thick of it, and it's something she still holds close to her chest.

"I try not to talk about it too much to my family and friends because I don't want to complain all the time," she said, "but it's on my mind all the time because I don't feel like myself."

Both Dodge and Martin hope telling their stories helps others understand there's still much to learn about the long-term effects of the coronavirus and how different people are affected differently. They encourage vaccines and boosters, and to do what you can to avoid getting the virus.

Contact Michelle at mboudin@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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