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Patients make their way back after brush with COVID-19

  • Bob Eddy contracted COVID-19 in mid-March after returning from a trip visiting family in London, and his wife Kathy, who had remained in Vermont, was infected with the virus shortly after. They endured the symptoms for two weeks, then confined themselves at home for two more weeks before venturing out again. The Eddys have breakfast at home with their dog Ruby in Braintree, Vt., Tuesday, March 26, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • “As soon as we got well in March, we were getting outside a little bit each day,” said Kathy Eddy, left. “That is what heals you.” The couple recovered from COVID-19 infections that were verified with testing.The couple put out their bird feeders at their Braintree, Vt., home Tuesday morning, May 26, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Rebecca Lovejoy, left, and her husband Kevin Peterson, both avid birders, follow the flight of a bird over their Lyme, N.H., home, Friday, May 22, 2020. Two days after serving as an election official at the Lyme Town Meeting, Lovejoy began feeling COVID-19 symptoms that included a fatigue that kept her on the couch for four weeks. Peterson, the town’s moderator, experienced only a few days of mild symptoms. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • “It’s very humbling to not be able to do very much right now,” said Rebecca Lovejoy, of Lyme, N.H., Friday, May 22, 2020. Lovejoy is still feeling the lingering effects, including a weakness in her arms and getting winded when walking up inclines, of a presumed COVID-19 infection that struck her on March 12. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Rebecca Lovejoy, of Lyme, N.H., spent the afternoon potting plants with help from her husband Kevin Peterson, right, Friday, May 22,2020. Peterson has been helping her with heavy lifting around the house as she continues have weakness in her arms after recovering from COVID-19.(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kathy Eddy began composing chants on the piano when the worst of her COVID-19 symptoms had passed and has now completed 16 of the short pieces. Her husband Bob Eddy joined her in singing one at home in Braintree, Vt., Tuesday, May 26, 2020. “One of our sorrows - we love singing in choirs,” said Kathy, wondering when, if ever, groups of singers could start gathering again given the transmission risk. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/30/2020 8:49:57 PM
Modified: 5/30/2020 8:49:55 PM

While Bob and Kathy Eddy were laid up with COVID-19 in late March, friends and neighbors “came out of the woodwork” to help them.

One neighbor, with whom the Eddys aren’t especially close, dropped off a cooler full of essentials such as macaroni and cheese, frozen chicken, toothpaste and toilet paper. When Bob Eddy came to the door, the neighbor, who was by then back in his truck, pointed to the cooler on the steps and “just gave us a thumbs-up,” Eddy said in a recent video call from his home in Braintree, Vt.

“I really feel we’re in it together,” said Eddy, a longtime photographer for The Herald of Randolph.

The Eddys and others with Upper Valley ties who have survived a bout with COVID-19 say their connections to other people helped carry them through their illness. They also expressed a desire to give back to others, whether by donating plasma, participating in medical research or otherwise volunteering.

While more than 100,000 people in the U.S. have perished due to COVID-19, that’s just a fraction of the 1.7 million who’ve contracted the disease. Out of the 977 confirmed cases in Vermont as of Saturday, 865 people, or nearly 90%, have recovered. Of the nearly 4,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Hampshire as of Friday, about 2,800 or 62% have recovered so far.

The Eddys are in their late 60s and the ninth and 19th diagnosed cases in Vermont. They are two of those to have regained their health after contracting the disease.

Symptoms range in severity

Bob Eddy first began exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 after traveling to London in early March to see his granddaughters perform in their school’s production of Beauty and the Beast.

Eddy’s symptoms, which included muscle aches, dizziness, a low-grade fever, headache and exhaustion, began on March 13.

His wife, Kathy, the former longtime pastor and composer in residence of Bethany Church, United Church of Christ in Randolph, stayed home from London due to a January knee replacement, but she came down with symptoms on March 16.

Like Bob, Kathy similarly felt lightheaded and had low energy during her time with the disease. During the worst of the roughly two weeks she battled the virus, Kathy Eddy said she would set one household task, such as emptying the dishwasher, as a goal for each day. She couldn’t focus enough to read or compose music.

A March 19 column in The Herald that Bob wrote normally would have taken him about three hours to write, but he said it took 15 hours due to the exhaustion he was experiencing at the time.

“It was horrible,” Kathy Eddy said. “The way in which it affected our brains.”

Sicker than expected

Lyme resident Rebecca Lovejoy, an otherwise healthy, active 58-year-old retired psychologist, said she was surprised at the fatigue that she felt during what she believes was a bout of COVID-19 beginning March 12.

“I want people to understand that it’s not like the flu,” Lovejoy said in a phone interview. “(You) can’t say just because you’re super-healthy and you lead a healthy lifestyle you might not get really, really sick.”

Lovejoy had returned from a ski trip to Austria roughly three weeks before the onset of her illness, but she believes she may have contracted it at a March social gathering in the Upper Valley that included a medical provider. The first two known cases in the Upper Valley were identified in employees of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in early March.

For Lovejoy, the symptoms began with chest pressure and a low-grade fever. After several days, she developed a “horrible cough.”

“My lungs were really burning,” she said.

During the worst of her illness, Lovejoy said she couldn’t walk up the stairs without having to sit down to take a break.

Like the Eddys, Lovejoy had symptoms including headaches and other neurological symptoms. It took weeks for the cough and fever to go away. By late April, the headaches were less intense, but doing things as strenuous as talking on the phone could still exacerbate them.

Lovejoy suspects her husband, Kevin Peterson, had a much milder form of the illness that passed within a couple of days. The couple didn’t try to isolate from each other and, during Lovejoy’s lengthy illness, Peterson was able to care for her, and extended family members helped with grocery shopping.

During that time, Lovejoy said her spirits were bolstered by supportive texts and emails from her friends.

“You feel so alone (and) so scared,” she said. It was “so great to know that people were thinking about me.”

Another challenge of the illness was the way Lovejoy said she would feel better one day and worse the next. The ups and downs made it difficult to predict and hard to see light at the end of the tunnel. Without a clear treatment, Lovejoy said she was left to her own devices to sort out a way to get through it.

“I just had to dig so deeply to find an acceptance of what was happening in that moment,” she said.

Lovejoy, who has a history of pneumonia, called and talked to a nurse when she first developed symptoms, but at the time the recommendation was to stay home and isolate, and only to seek medical attention if necessary. There weren’t enough tests for everyone.

“Luckily, I’m fine,” she said.

She still has some arm and lung weakness that prevent her from exercising as she normally would, but she hopes that with time she will be able to get back to her normal activities.

Hospitalized

Elizeu Gomes Santos, a 46-year-old Nashua resident, is among the more than 400 people hospitalized for COVID-19 in New Hampshire. DHMC released footage of him departing from the hospital in April after a 16-day stay that included intubation.

Santos is originally from Brazil and primarily speaks Portuguese but responded in English to questions from the Valley News via text message.

Santos, who works as a maintenance technician at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts, said he isn’t certain where he first picked up the virus. He said he got sick before social distancing measures had been put in place. He developed a cough and was so tired he couldn’t get out of bed.

In late March, his wife, Adriana, brought him to a hospital in southern New Hampshire, where he received treatment in an intensive care unit. The treatment there was not effective and Santos had to be placed on a ventilator to breathe. On April 2, after a week, he was transferred to DHMC.

“My experience at the hospital was very good,” he said of DHMC. “In eight days, I was already leaving the ICU.”

But his stay wasn’t without challenges. Santos said he missed his wife and children, as he wasn’t allowed visitors. In addition, when he needed assistance he had to wait for providers to put on masks, gloves and other protective equipment before they could come into his room.

“Even if they are very good, it takes time,” he said.

For strength during his recovery, Santos said he turned to his faith in God. According to his Facebook profile, Santos is a member of a Brazilian Evangelical church in Dracut, Mass.

“I had to hold onto my faith and pray a lot ... and trust God so that I could overcome this loneliness and get the strength to be able to help doctors and nurses in this recovery process,” he said.

More than a month after his discharge on April 17, Santos is back at work. He still has a slight cough and gets tired at work, but he’s recovering well.

“Now I’m feeling really good,” he said.

Stuck on the couch

Dartmouth College sophomore Ben McLean, 20, has spent the spring term at home in Chapel Hill, N.C., with his parents and younger sister, Sydney. His 52-year-old father, Sam, is an emergency department physician, and his 51-year-old mother, Heather, is a pediatrician.

They’re not sure, but they think it was Sam who first contracted COVID-19 in mid-March through his work in the emergency department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Heather, who works at Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center in Durham, and Ben McLean also developed symptoms, which for all three of them included a feeling of tightness in their chests.

“It was very hard to breathe,” he said in a phone interview.

McLean couldn’t exercise and struggled to get off the couch during his illness, which lasted about a week. He also completely lost his sense of taste and smell. He said it was different than the loss of smell that often accompanies a cold with a stuffy nose because he wasn’t congested.

“It was horrible,” he said.

He did not have several of the classic symptoms. If he had a cough, it was mild, and he never had a fever.

He said he never feared that he wouldn’t make it through the illness, but he was worried that he or his parents had transmitted the virus to his 83-year-old grandmother, whose birthday they had recently celebrated together.

“It looks like she didn’t get it,” he said. “We’re very lucky for that.”

Somehow his sister Sydney also escaped the disease, but one of the family’s dogs Winston, a pug, tested positive. Winston, along with the rest of the family, was swabbed as part of a Duke University study, the Molecular and Epidemiological Study of Suspected Infection.

Winston, whose specimens are being used to examine whether pets play a role in transmission, had symptoms for a day or two, including a slight cough and skipping breakfast one morning. The family has received a lot of media attention due to owning the first dog to test positive in the country, but McLean said he doesn’t think people should worry about their pets.

“People should be worried about other people,” he said. “Their dogs are going to be fine.”

Giving back

McLean and his parents have donated their blood and nasal mucus to the Duke study, which aims to develop better diagnostic tests for the earliest stages of disease, test for changes in the virus over time, understand immune responses to infection, evaluate treatment options using plasma or antibodies from recovered patients, and aid in the development of a vaccine.

“I’m curious to see whether having antibodies means immunity (to the disease),” Ben said. “... How else can you get over the virus? I’m hoping me having it means I’m good for a while … Nobody knows for sure.”

Like the McLeans, Lovejoy and Peterson are hoping their antibodies will help advance science and perhaps help others to get through the illness. Peterson had his blood drawn and tested earlier this month as part of an antibody study being conducted at DHMC in Lebanon. Lovejoy had hoped to donate but couldn’t because her iron levels were too low. She hopes to try again at a later date.

“I’d love to be of service in that way,” Lovejoy said.

Both Eddys recovered at home by the end of March. They now have been symptom-free for more than seven weeks, but they haven’t been tested again. They said lacking proof that they’ve recovered from COVID-19 has come with challenges.

Kathy said they’re left with an “ambiguous feeling” because they don’t know if they could still be carrying the disease or if they have immunity from it. People around them aren’t sure how to respond either. Her parents, Roger and Mary Sue Wonson, are both in their late 90s and live in Beverly, Mass. The Eddys had hoped to go down this month to bring the Wonsons lunch and do some planting in their garden, but the Wonsons asked that they put it off.

“Everyone’s afraid,” Kathy said.

In their recovery, the Eddys have returned to making music and art, as well as gardening. They’ve also taken up a new hobby of birdwatching, and they’re serving as mask-adorned volunteer cleaners at the laundromat owned by the Chandler Music Hall in Randolph.

“We’re at a point now to be able to give back a little,” Kathy said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.




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