Months after contracting COVID, 15-year-old still struggling

Ava McKinney-Taylor and her parents believe they were some of the first Georgians to contract the coronavirus back in early March of 2020.

Before that, the Stone Mountain, Georgia 15-year-old had been energetic, performing with her mother Ziah, a professional belly dancer, and participating in aikido.

"March 9th is when everything ground to an absolute halt," Ziah McKinney-Taylor remembers. "Ava is the one that got sick the first."

Within days, both of her parents were also sick.

This was before COVID-19 testing was widely available.

"And for pretty much that entire week I was just totally down," Ava McKinney-Taylor says.

It's been more than 200 days.

Yet, she says, the exhaustion has never gone away.

McKinney-Taylor, who attends an online school, says focusing is also difficult.

"The hardest part right now is the brain fog," she says. "My brain just doesn't work. It will give me the wrong names for things. I've called calculators calendars at least 5 times in the last week."

Dr. Lindsey Roenigk, a pulmonary critical care specialist at Tanner Health System, treats COVID-19 patients, and she understands the kind of mental fog McKinney-Taylor is describing.

"We are starting to see a pretty good influx of patients who are 3, 4 months out and still really struggling to recover," Roenigk says. "I'm definitely seeing patients who tell me they can't think all day long, that after a couple of hours, they're exhausted."

She says the vast majority of COVID-19 patients seem to recover without complications, but a small, and seemingly growing number, have symptoms that linger, and it's hard to understand why.

"The data we have is so sparse, and I think we're at the beginning of people starting to investigate it," Roenigk says.

Ava McKinney-Taylor says there are times her heart will race with the slightest bit of exertion, making dancing or being physically active nearly impossible. 

Through the COVID-19 survivor support group Body Politic.

Ava's mother has connected with hundreds of other parents, she says, describe the same kind of lingering malaise.

"That that their children just lack energy," McKinney-Taylor says. "They just lay around.  They look sallow. They have no color in their skin."

Ava McKinney-Taylor's doctors have suggested the problem could be stress, from the pandemic.

She says she's not stressed; she's frustrated, and a little afraid.

 "It's only really scary when I think about the future, and how it will affect me a year from now, five years from now, ten years from now," McKinney-Taylor says. "Am I always going to be exhausted for the rest of my life?"