LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Norton Healthcare piloted a new treatment for COVID-19 long-haulers suffering from brain fog on its own doctors and medical staff.
The Louisville-based health care company put its knowledge to use, pulling from therapies common in treatments for other neurological deficits like Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.
“We said, ’Hey, we can help these people. We can help our own get back on their feet and get back into work,’” Norton Speech Pathologist Anne Blandford said.
The treatment, based out of the Cressman Neurological Rehabilitation Center, was born out of necessity. Hundreds of Norton workers tested positive for COVID-19 and many had long-hauler brain fog side effects.
Hospital generalist Dr. Dwyane Likens, who worked on the front line from the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic at Norton Brownsboro Hospital.
“It was kind of a surreal experience hearing on the radio, the news that the first reported case (in Louisville) was in our hospital and I was driving straight to it,” Likens said. “I was in the fire.”
On Dec. 4, 2020, that “fire” burned Likens. He noticed body aches and flu-like symptoms during dinner and was diagnosed with COVID-19.
Likens said he lost his sense of taste and smell, but for him the coronavirus wasn’t a battle for breath. It was battle for his brain.
“There was an eye movement that really disabled my ability to read or watch television without getting severely nauseated,” Likens explained. “It was really frustrating to not be able to work. Not many people realized what I was going through.”
At his worst, Likens said he needed friends and family for rides as he forgot where he was going. The doctor says he nearly burned down his apartment forgetting food on the stove with no ability to smell the smoke. At one point, he feared he would lose his job.
“This was my livelihood. My brain is what I use to do my job and to sort through charts and read volumes of material every day was too challenging for me to do. I couldn't even read my emails," said Likens. “I was set to close on a house … I had to cancel the closing of this house purchase because I was fearful I couldn’t do my job anymore.”
Blandofrd says fatigue is a driving force of brain fog comparing the effects of COVID-19 to doing a nonstop an all-nighter. A fatigued brain lacks focus, leading to what patients experience as fog with lacking memory and concentration. In the beginning, Likens said the therapy would remind them of something an elementary teacher would give their student, like matching shapes and colors and other simple tasks with words.
“It's about putting your brain in just enough of a taxing situation that you start to employ techniques and understanding,” Blandford said. “With these individuals they have to start thinking about thinking.”
At first, it was just for Norton employees. But after seeing success in roughly 100 workers, the hospital group opened the treatment up to the public.
One study suggests 10% of COVID-19 patients become long-haulers. With more than 34 million people testing positive for the coronavirus in the U.S. alone, the brain fog therapy could be a breakthrough.
“I was out of work eight weeks, and I feel as though I bounced back completely now,” Dr. Likens said.
He also returned a more empathetic doctor, using his story to give hope that the COVID fog can clear.
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