KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Many COVID-19 long haulers are reporting a reduction, and sometimes a full recovery from symptoms, after being vaccinated.
Debi Slaughter, who lives in Michigan, was diagnosed with COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic.
After the infection phase ended, Slaughter said she was left with daily migraines, shortness of breath, brain fog and crippling fatigue.
"Throughout the course of the next six to eight weeks, things started popping up," Slaughter said. "Then I started having the blood pressure spikes and dips."
Slaughter said, on one occasion, she even passed out.
"I was petrified to drive because I was falling asleep," Slaughter said.
Slaughter received her first shot of the Moderna vaccine nearly a year later. All of her symptoms, she said, went away after the first dose.
"It's been amazing I can't explain, the doctors can't explain, but I feel like somebody gave me my life back," Slaughter said. "The way I described it to my best friend, I woke up this morning and I feel alive."
In Illinois, Adam Handy has a similar story.
Handy was diagnosed with COVID-19 in November, one day before Thanksgiving.
His illness started with severe stomach pain and vomiting. He then noticed he couldn't taste anything. That was the symptom that lingered for months after the infection left.
"I got to a point where I was like, maybe this is just the level of taste I’m going to have for the rest of my life now," Handy said.
An avid runner, Handy said he also could no longer continue because he also had shortness of breath.
"I literally couldn’t get through a half a mile of a two mile run," Handy said.
Like Slaughter, Handy said after he got his first round of Moderna, he noticed his symptoms started to subside.
"The fatigue levels specifically was better," Handy said.
After receiving the second dose, Handy said the shortness of breath subsided.
"Just being able to smell flowers on the breeze outside, was like my trigger, and I was like, oh wow this is back," Handy said.
It's a phenomenon that physicians like Dr. Sale, director of Ambulatory Services at The University of Kansas Health System, witness, but can't explain.
"I think we’ve had a few different situations where our providers would say, 'Look, I’ve had three or four patients come in now and say they’re better after having had the vaccine,"' Sale said. "Their symptoms of brain fog or fatigue have resolved or has significantly decreased after the vaccine."
The University of Kansas Health System has implemented a COVID-19 long haulers clinic where patients who continue to suffer from debilitating symptoms are positioned with a team of doctors.
Sale says that while not all patients recover after receiving the vaccine, it provides new hope to those who are suffering and to the doctors who treat them.
"A lot of hope, a lot of directional belief that maybe that will sustain itself in the long term," Sale said.
The recoveries also bring hope to other people who suffer from similar symptoms, like those with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Kelly Crandall began struggling with CFS 30 years ago when after a bout of the Esptein-Barr Virus.
Crandall, a former runner, said she's spent most of that time convincing doctors there was something physically wrong, but was often told it was just depression or anxiety. Her exhaustion, she says, goes beyond the typical kind of tired.
"This is just bone tired; This is like my arms are sausages tired," Crandall said. "This is just sit and have no fire in your belly tired and that got worse over time as I got older."
Crandall said when she hears stories like those told by Slaughter and Handy, she sees herself.
"Mostly when they were saying, I ran a marathon last year and this year I am so different, I’m like yeah that’s me, I’ve tried running but I’m not the person I was," Crandall said.
Crandall hopes the spotlight being placed on COVID-19 long haulers will expand to those who've experienced similar symptoms for years, even though the onset of symptoms come from different viral illnesses.
"To have this studied is validating," Crandall said.
Sale recognizes there is a long history of people reporting debilitating symptoms after other viral illness, but often times, the trigger isn't known.
"The chronic fatigue is a big one," Sale said. "That brain fog sensation, just muscle weakness and malaise."
Sale recognizes how devastating the symptoms are for the patients in the long haul clinic.
"They can be very debilitating," Sale said. "We have patients that can’t go back to work because because they can’t get out of bed in the morning-they just ache all over."
Right now, the clinic only takes COVID-19 long haulers, but Dr. Sale said it could someday expand to people like Crandall who suffer from similar symptoms.
Sale also said, while there may not be a good treatment for certain symptoms now, when one is discovered patients who are in the long-haulers system will be contacted down the road when one becomes available.