Patient Shares Long COVID-19 Recovery Journey and Encourages Vaccination

After testing positive for COVID-19, Matt Umberger, a 54-year-old from Albany, Oregon, was hospitalized when his fever spiked at 104.1 degrees and his condition worsened. Umberger became critically ill, and before being intubated, he asked the bedside nurse at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis, Oregon, to tell his wife, children, sister and parents that he loved them.

Umberger spent eight days on a ventilator in the intensive care unit before he was able to breathe on his own again. Pulmonologist James Knight, M.D., commended his patient and told him “you kicked COVID’s butt.”

Knight also cautioned Umberger: “The easy part is over. Now begins the rest of your journey to recovery.”

For Umberger, the recovery journey spanned nearly a year. He is among those experiencing post-COVID-19 conditions, also known as long-haul COVID, long COVID, post-acute COVID-19 and chronic COVID, among other names. It’s estimated that anywhere from 15% to 80% of COVID-19 patients might experience long COVID after recovering, according to the American Medical Association.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, post-COVID-19 conditions are a “wide range of new, returning or ongoing health problems people can experience four or more weeks after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.” Even people who didn’t have symptoms after they were infected can have post-COVID conditions. Symptoms may include cough, joint and chest pain, fever, dizziness, fast heart rate, fatigue and shortness of breath. Experts are still learning more about long COVID’s short- and long-term effects, who gets them and why.

For months after being discharged from the hospital, Umberger learned that “surviving was just the beginning.” In a blog and video posted on the health system’s website, Umberger, his wife, Tara, and Brian Delmonaco, M.D., the medical center’s critical care director, described the recovery from long-haul COVID-19. Umberger talked about mobility issues and the use of supplemental oxygen.

“I felt like a 95-year-old man,” he said.

He also did pulmonary rehabilitation and took medication to repair the damage to his lungs caused by COVID-19. Umberger worked hard during his recovery and rehabilitation, returning to work after four months away.

In the video, Umberger admits he didn’t fully understand how serious COVID-19 was until he was hospitalized. “I thought it was severely overblown,” he said. Now he wants to share his story to help keep others healthy. He received the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as he was eligible.

Early studies have showed “some positive results with decreased symptoms when patients with long-haul symptoms received the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Delmonaco said, “If I had a time machine and could go back in time and advise people how not to get sick from COVID and do their best to prevent being hospitalized from COVID, I would say ‘get a vaccine.’”

Samaritan Health Services’ website features a host of useful content, including information on COVID-19 vaccines, long-haul COVID and other related topics, as well as patient stories like Umberger’s.