Shropshire woman still suffering from after-effects of coronavirus seven months on

Full of life and enthusiasm, Ann Hartley thought nothing of twice daily walks with husband, Ryan, and their chocolate Labrador, Mocha, often clocking up five miles or more along Ellesmere's lanes and canals towpaths.

Ann Hartley wonders if she will ever return to full health
Ann Hartley wonders if she will ever return to full health

Chairman of Shropshire Council, she combined regular trips to the Shirehall, in Shrewsbury, with her role as a councillor for the town.

Then on March 22, the day before lockdown, Ann contracted coronavirus and, seven months later, she is still suffering – diagnosed with Long Covid.

She believes the UK could be heading for an epidemic of huge proportions as more and more people find they cannot fully recover from the virus.

Councillor Ann Hartley and her dog, Mocha

Between 5,000 and 6,000 people are already known to be suffering Long Covid and, as the UK enters the second wave, she says those figures will only grow.

While the committed councillor continues her council work in full, helped greatly by mainly online meetings, Ann says normal life is still out of her reach with long dog walks impossible.

A walk to the local supermarket even leaves her out-of-breath and exhausted.

"It is like someone is sitting on my chest," she says, describing the last seven months.

She also often has to stop and pause for breath mid-sentence.

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"My first Covid symptom was the most indescribable sore throat, like swallowing broken glass," she said.

"I couldn't breathe, I couldn't sleep, I would be totally out of it.

"I have had really bad flu but this was a different level.

"The advice at the time was to stay home and take paracetamol and drink plenty of fluids, which I did."

A week later her breathing became so bad that her husband phoned for an ambulance.

"The paramedics were incredible. I was put on an nebuliser to stabilise my breathing while it was decided what to do.

Ann Hartley tells of her battle with Long Covid

"Local hospitals were full and I was warned I would have to be taken to Stoke or Birmingham – and of course Ryan wouldn't be able to come with me. I was terrified.

"The crew stayed with me a couple of hours and eventually I could breathe without help so I could stay at home."

Ryan then contracted Covid himself but, Ann said, he recovered very quickly.

"He went to bed for about three days and then got better quite quickly.

"Seven months on and I am still suffering. I get waves of relapse, it is so debilitating."

The councillor has done a good deal of research into Long Covid and is a member of a Facebook group of fellow suffers.

"Those most affected are between the ages of 30 and 65, with lots of us those that didn't have hospital treatment.

"And it doesn't seem to matter how fit you were before.

"I have talked to an ironman triathlete, a firefighter and lots of doctors and consultants who now have Long Covid.

"Some people are in wheelchairs, it is affecting them so badly.

"Being in contact with other sufferers is such a comfort.

"We share our feelings and when you read other people's health problems you realise you are not going mad."

Ann Hartley is currently living with the effects of Long Covid

She said the Ellesmere medical practice had been an incredible help.

"Doctors there, unlike in some other areas, recognised Long Covid very quickly.

"I have been on several courses of steroids and antibiotics.

"I have also joined a national research project, run by Perspectum, in London and Oxford.

"It began with 500 recovering Covid patients but so big is the problem is it now recruiting another 1,000.

"I spent a day undergoing tests, from checking my oxygen levels and lung capacity to a full MRI scan.

"I will go back in about six months time so that they can check on my progress."

While Ann says it often feels like her health is not improving, her husband says he notices progress.

"It is two steps forward, one step back, but those backward steps are further apart these days," he said.

She says what has been vitally important is to keep exercising and strengthen her lungs.

"Exercise is part of the recovery but is is finding the right balance and pacing yourself, not exhausting yourself, but not giving up."

Reports of people ignoring social distancing and breaking lockdown rules also leave her frustrated.

"Those people need to stop and think about exactly what they are doing.

"This is a horrible, horrible virus is not only killing people, it is leaving thousands of others will long-term health effects.

"I have been very lucky in being able to continue my role at the council effectively.

"But there are so many who previously led active lives who can no longer work.

"Mothers who are so fatigued they can't look after their children.

"This is a major effect of the pandemic that we are going to have to live with for a very long time."

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