FORT SMITH, Ark. — Don Mantooth still has achy joints, brain fog and chest pain. But it's his breathing, he credits to his "therapy angels" at Baptist Health-Fort Smith and their pulmonary specialists that have kept him going while he battles long-haul COVID.
Mantooth was diagnosed with COVID in July of last year shortly after his wife contracted the virus. Both went to the hospital. His wife was able to leave with no long-term effects. However, a 15-day stint in the hospital left Mantooth learning how to walk and breathe again.
He tells 5NEWS that with the aid of his wife and in-home nurses, he eventually regained strength but still found himself "putting milk in the microwave and cereal in my coffee cup" due to brain fog related to a lack of oxygen.
Mantooth had to use an oxygen tank to keep his levels up. After a few months, his doctor saw improvement and got him into pulmonary rehabilitation at the Baptist Health Marvin Altman Fitness Center. It's here Mantooth has learned how to get his breath back.
"You learn how to use your diaphragm to breathe and I do that every day," Mantooth said. "It does well enough to keep my oxygen where I don't have to have a bottle but I still can't do a whole lot."
Scar tissue on his lungs and the signs of fibrosis are challenges he works to overcome. Thankfully, he has a little help.
"I call them my therapy angels, the therapy angels in rehab help me get to a point where I can breathe again," Mantooth said.
His "angels" have him walk 15 laps around the track and use exercise machines to build up his cardio and expand his chest cavity. While it might not seem like a lot of effort for some, every step makes a difference for Mantooth.
He says going upstairs used to feel like "somebody holding their hand over your mouth and pinching your nose, you just can't get enough oxygen." But rehabilitation is keeping his airways open.
A recent test has his doctor worried the damage to his lungs is getting worse, but time will tell.
Dr. Adebayo Fasanya is one of the pulmonologists at Baptist Health and he says cases of long-haul COVID vary from person to person.
"It's so different between people, you can just get a generalized idea based on age and things like that, but overall, there is no real answer to that," says Dr. Fasanya.
With things different between COVID long-haulers, that recent test for Mantooth really could change with time. Not enough research has been done to see what can happen from person to person as time goes on.
COVID might have taken away a job Mantooth loved, but his new job, with the help of his angels, has given him a new lease on life.
"You gotta put in the effort and you gotta be driven and have something inspire you to get better," says Mantooth.
His message to anyone else struggling with their own long-haul symptoms is to keep up the effort and take things one breath at a time.
"Just keep working at it, you can't stop, you can't give up," said Mantooth. "If you give up, you're done."
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