‘COVID long-haulers’ at risk for paralyzing condition

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Over one-third of COVID-19 patients remain symptomatic or develop at least one adverse condition after the virus has cleared.

Symptoms such as brain fog and memory loss are common. But, there can also be debilitating physical side effects.

Either way, in the eyes of doctors, these patients are called “COVID long haulers” suffering from a condition called “long COVID.” 

The underlying cause of long COVID remains unclear. However, even when a long-hauler clears the virus, cells in an area of the brain called the “gray matter” can still be attacked and destroyed to a point where a person can become paralyzed. 

News 8 spoke with Dr. Sachin Mehta, physical medicine and rehabilitation expert at Franciscan Health, about a critical complication that can happen as a result of damaged gray matter: Guillain-Barre syndrome.

“COVID can affect the central nervous system, which is your brain and spinal cord,” Mehta said. “With Guillain-Barre that immune response affects our peripheral nervous system so those are the nerves that go to our arms and our legs and a syndrome like Guillain-Barre — which is paralysis to our arms and legs — can even affect our breathing and facial expressions.”

Recovery, Mehta says, is possible. Occupational therapy is the best approach as these patients will need to learn how to get out of bed, bathe and dress on their own all over again. 

These things, he adds, are all things that are addressed in comprehensive rehabilitation.