Saturday, January 21, 2023

‘I really miss school’: 71,000 children in UK battling long Covid

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“Some days you can handle it, some days you can’t.”

12-year-old Tillie Adams is living with the aftermath of covid for two years.

Her “cold-like symptoms” diagnosed in January 2021 quickly turned into something more serious.

“It was mainly the abdominal pain,” explains her mother Kelly. “She got really bad stomach pains and when she ate it got worse and she cried out in pain. So she stopped eating altogether.”

When Tillie was hospitalized in April 2021, she weighed only three kilos.

Since then, Tillie has had to be fed through a tube. Her symptoms are still very debilitating, making her feel ill and causing severe pain in her stomach and legs.

She is now back in school part-time but is struggling to do other things that she used to enjoy.

Tillie is one of 71,000 children in the UK suffering from Post-Covid-19 Syndrome, better known as Long Covid.

“You can’t just think about that day,” says Tillie. “You have to think about the next day.

“Because if you have something important to do the next day, there’s nothing you can do that day. I try to think of all the positive things. I try to think, ‘I’ll get better, I’ll get better’.

“But actually I don’t really know.”

Kelly says doctors are “hopeful” her daughter will recover, “but there are no guarantees.”

At Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London they have developed a special clinic for children with long Covid.

Imani Howsam, 14, is one of around 50 patients she has seen since its inception in October 2021.

It is designed as a “one-stop shop” where each child is examined by a team of seven specialists, including psychologists, physiotherapists and nutritionists.

Rob Schneider is the occupational therapist at the clinic. He tells me that long Covid causes a variety of chronic symptoms in the children he treats, but that the kind of symptoms Imani has – “the fatigue, the brain fog, the difficulty transitioning back to school,” quite are common.

Imani’s father, Karl, says his daughter used to enjoy playing squash and swimming, “but she can’t do that anymore.”

Her mother, Nadia, tells me that Imani is so exhausted that she sometimes sleeps 18 hours a day.

The day we meet at the clinic is the second time Imani has left home in a month, and she hasn’t been able to go to school for a year.

“I miss school a lot,” she tells me. “I miss my friends. I just want my normal life back.”

The clinic at Guy’s and St Thomas is one of 14 ‘hubs’ across England dedicated to treating children with long Covid.

The specialists cannot promise a cure, but they want to try to help children live with it.

“The hope is that with the right intervention, you can change it faster, and we’re seeing some young people in our clinic getting better within a few months,” explains Dr. Emma Parish, a pediatric consultant who helped set up the service.

“But broadly speaking it’s going to take a few months and it’s about a slowly improving picture. I think the social impact for them is huge, and the impact for us as a society – because these are young people who need to get better, so they can do what we want them to do and what they want to do in the future.”

Imani’s journey from her home in Surrey to her hospital appointment in London will take her days, if not weeks, to recover from.

But when we chat after her appointment, she beams.

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