Daniel is still hobbled by the severe viral infection that struck him in March and left him coughing up blood.
Three months ago, a 28-year-old environmental researcher from the United Kingdom, was on the road with friends in a band as they toured venues in the French Alps.
He came down with Covid-19 symptoms, and like many coronavirus patients, spent weeks in bed. He asked that his last name not be used in this story for professional reasons.
Unlike other people, however, Daniel’s life hasn’t returned to normal.
“Since then it’s been on and off with extreme tiredness and fatigue,” he said.
Every day he has brain fog, difficulty concentrating and problems with short-term memory that make reading, writing and speaking harder.
“Breathing has been very difficult,” he said. “I don’t feel like I have my full breath capacity. If I go for a walk for one minute, I’ll be really exhausted.”
The profound mark the disease has made on Daniel’s life isn’t uncommon.
“About 80% are going to experience a mild or asymptomatic version of Covid. It’s the other 20% that we’re worried about,” said Dr. Luis Ostrosky-Zeichner, a professor of medicine at the University of Texas McGovern Medical School.
“One out of five patients are going to get a severe form of the disease.”
Some young people are not getting better
As case counts among young people rise, Daniel and others in their 20s want to share stories of the wreckage Covid-19 has wrought in their lives.
Those patients can potentially experience permanent lung damage, including scarring and reduced lower respiratory capacity.
“The thing that we don’t yet fully appreciate is what happens when you get infected, and you get serious disease, and you recover?” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at the BIO International Convention in June.
“We don’t know the extent of full recovery or partial recovery, so there’s a lot we need to learn,” he said.
Young people, who are less likely to die from coronavirus than their grandparents, are an important target of those lessons.
Whether they contracted the virus among the snow-capped peaks of the Alps or in the heart of the outbreak in New York City’s borough of Queens, some 20-somethings are getting sick from Covid-19. And staying sick.
Their stories are a warning from millennials to millennials: Don’t play the odds with coronavirus because this disease could permanently damage your body.
“What I like to tell my students and patients is that this is a lottery you do not want to win,” said Ostrosky-Zeichner.
A 28-year-old science researcher feels like a leper
At home in the UK, Daniel is in his fourth month of Covid-19 aftermath.
He has a doctor’s note saying that he shouldn’t return to full-time work, but he picks up an occasional project when he can. There isn’t much else to do resting in bed.
The symptoms are lingering, and they’re severe.
“Two weeks ago I had a crushing sensation in my chest,” he said. “It felt like I couldn’t breathe. That was the worst part.”
Last week, while driving, he felt faint and had to pull over to the side of the road to call an ambulance to pick him up. Afraid of blacking out behind the wheel, he decided to take a break from driving.
He joined the Long Covid Support Group, where he’s been sharing his experiences with more than 6,000 others from around the world afflicted with similar symptoms following Covid-19 infection.
His girlfriend, a nurse, lives in town, but aside from a few socially distanced walks, they haven’t seen each other in person in months.
“When I feel ill, I wonder if it’s Covid, or is it me picking up every bug because my immune system is so low?”
He’s caught in limbo somewhere between sickness and health. He has a disease the medical establishment is still struggling to define, and it’s unclear whether it’s safe for him or others to be in contact with each other.
“You kind of feel like a leper, really,” he said.
A 28-year-old TV writer needs an inhaler to work out
When Morgan Swank got sick around Christmas, she texted her friends, “I’m dying. I’ve never felt like this before.”
The Atlanta-based television writer has credits on “Saturday Night Live,” “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” and “The Mindy Project,” and she now runs a production company focusing on elevating projects from women and filmmakers of color.
Swank had a fever for three weeks and lost her sense of smell for nine days. While ill with what she thought was the flu, she passed out in an airport during an international trip, she said.
A nonsmoker who worked out three times a week, she wasn’t used to struggling for air.
Swank eventually tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies in April, but her lungs are damaged from a month of hard coughing.
She’s back to working out, and in addition to boxing gloves, she now keeps Albuterol inhalers with her boxing gloves in her gym bag. The inhalers help her finish her workout.
“I have to use an inhaler every couple minutes to reinvigorate my lungs,” she said.
Even short conversations can be a struggle. “I hear it in my voice just talking to you,” she said in a phone interview. “I’m winded.”
Getting sick again is her biggest worry, and she feels like her immune system is now compromised.
“I really wish people would wear their masks all the time,” she said. “If I get another respiratory infection like the flu and my lungs get damaged from that, I may have to be hospitalized.”