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Kentucky COVID-19 survivors talk about life after the virus

Published: Jan. 28, 2021 at 5:38 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - By this point you know the numbers-- hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians have tested positive for COVID-19 over the last ten months.

Sadly, nearly 4000 have died in Kentucky, but for the countless COVID survivors getting over the virus, it isn’t always as simple as finally testing negative.

WKYT ‘s Amber Philpott re-visited two of the COVID survivors we profiled early on to see how they are doing now, and how becoming a statistic in this pandemic changed their lives.

This past April a welcome celebration for a Lexington physician assistant was a defining moment in the early days of the pandemic.

It was an early wake up call to just how serious COVID-19 was, and still is, in the state.

“By my doctor I was told I was the sickest person they took care of that survived, and from what I understand it was touch and go for a little while,” said Sheila Thornsberry.

For Thornsberry it is hard now to believe she is a statistic of the pandemic.

“It’s still unfathomable about the fact that I’m missing 18-19 days, I don’t recall those days,” said Thornsberry.

The wife and mother spent 24 days in the hospital, most of that time on a ventilator fighting COVID, but her journey wasn’t over. Life after COVID often comes with its own challenges.

“A month after I was home I had to go back into the hospital because my trachea was swollen almost shut,” said Thornsberry.

Like a lot of COVID survivors, Thornsberry still has lingering effects, her voice isn’t the same and she experiences a lot of achiness. Her lung function is also still recovering.

“I’ve come from a 71% to 73%, now of lung function so that’s something that is hard to wrap my head around because I’ve never had any issues like that,” said Thornsberry.

Another survivor is Lyndsey Gough, a Kentucky native who is used to being in front of the camera.

Gough is a sports anchor in Savannah, Georgia, but in late June she found herself at the center of her own COVID story. Our Sam Dick spoke with Gough on Thursday’s nights The Breakdown, and you can find that interview at the bottom of this story.

“So I had COVID and I was quarantined for just over two weeks. I started to feel a little better and then I started having severe abdominal pain,” said Gough.

Her COVID journey included a ruptured appendix. The doctor said was the size of a baseball, had hardened and caused a massive infection.

“My body just kind of went haywire, he described it as a lightning strike to my system,” said Gough.

Gough returned to work in September, but she still battles lasting effects, like fatigue.

“I do get headaches a lot more frequently than I used to and they are pretty severe headaches, borderline migraine. I have had to call into work several times,” said Gough.

It is a puzzling reality of COVID, people who have recovered from COVID, but now experiencing these long-hauler symptoms.

But it is quite a few people, maybe up to 50 percent of them are keeping something for a month, two months or four months, said Dr. James Rossi of Family Practices Associates.

Things like continued shortness of breath, headaches, extreme fatigue and chest pain, all things Lexington doctor James Rossi is learning to diagnose and treat in his patients who once had COVID.

“I think I have been thrown off multiple times by people telling me they feel decent and I see them in the clinic a month later and they are still tired, or they still haven’t reached the level of activity they were at before,” said Dr. James Rossi.

Returning to normal life is getting easier for both Gough and Thornsberry.

Turning 51 after her fight, Thornsberry has a new perspective on life.

“I definitely don’t sweat the little things,” said Thornsberry.

And for Gough, who was one of 30 at the time in her COVID hospital ward, she lived to tell another story, this one of awareness.

“It’s pretty surreal, it definitely makes you think and hopefully it makes others think too,” said Gough.

Both Thornsberry and Gough were able to donate plasma with their antibodies to helps others fighting COVID.

Dr. Rossi is also encouraging COVID survivors to get the vaccine, because even if you have antibodies there is no way to tell how long they will stay with you.

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