Memory Loss, Gnarled Fingers, Panic Attacks: COVID-19 Didn’t Kill These Americans

Andujar spent 18 days in a Clifton, New Jersey, hospital, struggling to survive after catching the coronavirus. Initially, recovery at home was tough.

An avid skier will lose eight of his fingers and three toes due to complications from the coronavirus.

A 27-year-old who beat the virus is plagued by panic attacks and depression.

Deaths by COVID-19, the disease brought on by the coronavirus, has garnered much of the nation’s attention, especially as U.S. fatalities surpassed 100,000 this week.

But many of the more than 1.7 million Americans who’ve contracted the disease are confronting puzzling, lingering symptoms, including aches, anxiety attacks, night sweats, rapid heartbeats, breathing problems and loss of smell or taste.

Many are living a life unrecognizable from the one they had before.

USA TODAY interviewed more than a dozen COVID-19 survivors to capture their thoughts on beating the virus that has infected more than 5.8 million people worldwide and learn how their lives have changed.

Here are their stories. At home with tubes in his nose

Angel Andujar, left, in a photo taken before he contracted the coronavirus and, right, after he returned home from the hospital. Andujar, 73, who is originally from Puerto Rico and lives in Clifton, N.J., spent 18 days in a hospital fighting the virus.

Lately, Angel Andujar, 73, can’t walk from his bedroom to his living room without getting winded. Tubes in his nose feed oxygen to lungs recently ravaged by COVID-19.

Andujar spent 18 days in a Clifton, New Jersey, hospital, struggling to survive after catching the coronavirus. Initially, recovery at home was tough.

He would sleep only a few hours a night before waking up, gasping for air.

He stayed away from the MSNBC broadcasts he once watched regularly because too much COVID-19 coverage made him anxious.

Andujar, a retired respiratory therapist originally from Puerto Rico, is used to keeping busy: working on projects around the house, cutting the grass, visiting his grandchildren. All those have been put on hold.

He doesn’t know if he’ll have long-term lung damage. For now, he’s enjoying being surrounded by friends and family. Earlier this month, he watched through a bedroom window as his grandson Miguel celebrated his fourth birthday in his yard. A neighbor, a retired fireman, parked a fire truck on the street and ran the siren, to Miguel’s delight.

“As long as I have my daughter and grandkids, I don’t need anything else,” he says. “That’s enough for me.”

Her friends are dying from COVID-19 as she recovers

Ravi Turman, left, in a photo before catching the coronavirus and, right, while still recovering from the virus. Turman, 51, of Denver, Colo., spent 16 days in a Denver hospital after contracting the coronavirus.

Ravi Turman, left, in a photo before catching the coronavirus and, right, while still recovering from the virus. Turman, 51, of Denver, Colo., spent 16 days in a Denver hospital after contracting the coronavirus.

Two months after she relocated to Denver, Ravi Turman thought her nagging cough was residual altitude sickness or a bad cold.

She checked into a hospital emergency room on March 22, where she collapsed into a coma and spent 10 days on a ventilator, wrecked with COVID-19.

After she returned home, Turman, 51, constantly asked herself why she had recovered when so many other African Americans are contracting and dying of the mysterious disease. Recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that black Americans are being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19 at disproportionately higher rates than whites.

Turman’s Facebook site is filled with reports of friends and families across the U.S. dying from the disease. In one family she knew from Indianapolis, all seven members contracted COVID-19 and three of them died.

She still struggles with back pain but feels she’ll be back at 100% soon. She wants to show African Americans and other minority groups they can survive COVID-19, too.

“It isn’t necessarily a death sentence,” she says. “You can beat it. Don’t give up hope.”

At her darkest moment, when her lungs squeezed closed and she felt near death, Wendy Lanski latched on to one thought: “Osama bin Laden didn’t kill me. I’m not dying from this virus.”

Lanski, 49, a 9/11 survivor, spent 13 days in a New Jersey hospital battling the coronavirus. Her fever spiked to 103 degrees, she had bad chills and it felt like “something was sitting on my chest,” she says. Doctors debated putting her on a ventilator but decided to keep her on oxygen instead. She slowly recovered.

Now back home, Lanski worries if the rapid heartbeat and fatigue that followed her home are permanent.

Coronavirus survivors face new normal after beating deadly virus

Kevin Rathel deals with vision problems and memory issues even after beating coronavirus.

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