17 days in hospital was just the beginning: Walsall family on 'massive impact' of long Covid

“It’s been such a long journey and it’s had a massive impact on us a family. It feels like we’ve spent the last 18 months living on a knife edge," says the mother of a man who is struggling with the effects of long Covid.

Dom Zabawa caught Covid in March 2020
Dom Zabawa caught Covid in March 2020

Dom Zabawa, 39, of Streetly near Walsall has autism and severe learning difficulties and already had a life full of challenges when he was struck down with coronavirus at the start of the pandemic.

His mother Pam has spent the last 18 months helping to care for him and is now urging others to take the virus seriously and protect themselves and the community.

While Dom has survived the infection like many recovering patients he has been left long Covid which is the effects of the illness which drags on for weeks or months beyond the initial illness. The symptoms can include fatigue, breathlessness, anxiety and depression, heart palpitations, chest pain and joint or muscle pain.

His mother Mrs Zabawa explains: “Dom caught Covid-19 in March last year when the virus was still very new and no one really knew how serious it was. He was really poorly with what we thought was a chest infection but was admitted to hospital as his oxygen levels were really low.

Dom Zabawa caught Covid in March 2020

"They tested him for the virus when he was first admitted and two days later his results came back positive. At the time we all thought it was a just virus that older people got so we didn’t expect Dom who is in his thirties to catch it, let alone be seriously ill from it.

“He was in hospital for 17 days, but luckily he recovered and came home. However, we didn’t realise then that the journey had only just started for us. Dom had asthma before, but it was controlled and wasn’t a massive issue, but the virus has severely impacted his lungs.

"He now has oxygen overnight to help with his breathing and to ease the pressure on his chest, which he never had to have before. He’s always tired, has low energy and his appetite hasn’t been the same.

“It’s been such a long journey and it’s had a massive impact on us a family. It feels like we’ve spent the last 18 months living on a knife edge, constantly worrying about Dom and his health. At times it feels like he’s turning a corner and gets a little bit better, but then suddenly he’s really poorly again and we’re taking him to hospital. He was in hospital back in May with pneumonia, which is something he is now really prone to getting due to the damage to his lungs.

“As Dom caught the virus so early on in the pandemic, no one realised the long-term effect it could have on people. Now, there’s more awareness of long Covid and clinics have started to open up, which is great. We’ve recently started working with a respiratory team, and also have a team of carers on hand, which is a massive help.

“It’s been 18 months since he first caught Covid-19 and in the last six weeks we’ve finally started to see a noticeable improvement. Whilst he is still on oxygen overnight, he seems more himself and has a lot more energy which is just brilliant, and we’re hopeful as a family that his health continues to improve.

“Dom had his vaccine earlier this year, and our whole family are now double vaccinated. We want to make sure we can protect him as much as possible as it could be devastating for us if he catches it again. It’s a risk we just don’t want to take.”

Recovery from long Covid can take days, weeks or months. The chances of having long-term symptoms does not seem to be linked to how ill you arewhen you first get the virus.

Chief nursing officer for Black Country and West Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Group, Sally Roberts, said: “Many people who have had Covid-19 will have lasting symptoms and for some these may have a big impact on their quality of life.

“Long Covid can affect anyone regardless of age or lifestyle and so the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from serious illness is to come forward for your jabs as quickly as possible.

“The offer of a vaccine is evergreen so if you haven’t had your first dose yet, or it’s been eight weeks and your second dose is now due, please don’t delay.”

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