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Friday, July 19, 2024

Breathe easy: UC Davis Health’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program helps alleviate respiratory symptoms in COVID-19

Post-COVID-19 involves an array of symptoms that can persist long after the infection’s disappearance


By LILLY ACKERMAN — science@theaggie.org 


UC Davis Health’s Post-COVID-19 Clinic has been providing treatment options for patients suffering from lingering symptoms after a previous infection with COVID-19, a condition colloquially referred to as post-COVID or long COVID. 

According to Tracy Seward, who is a nurse practice manager at UC Davis Health’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program, the Post-COVID-19 Clinic was created out of the need to treat patients whose symptoms did not subside after a prior viral infection. 

“These patients are typically referred to as ‘long-haulers,’ as their COVID symptoms have not resolved and these symptoms continue to negatively impact their daily lives,” Seward said via email. “At the UC Davis Post-COVID clinic, we are able to assess the patient and determine their greatest need for care.”

Dr. Bradley Sanville, a pulmonary and critical care physician in UC Davis Health’s Department of Internal Medicine, who helped establish the Post-COVID-19 Clinic, explained post-COVID-19’s complicated nature and the need for personalized treatment. 

“Post-COVID Syndrome is a pretty widely-varied potential symptomatology that patients can have,” Sanville said. “[It ranges] from a singular symptom to a compilation of symptoms that doesn’t have a necessarily clearly well-defined singular cause to it.”

According to Aimee Kizziar, a respiratory therapist and supervisor for the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program, post-COVID-19’s varied symptoms can also impact a patient’s life in many ways. 

“It is worrisome because post-COVID conditions are associated with a spectrum of physical, social, and psychological consequences, as well as functional limitations that can present substantial challenges to patient wellness and quality of life,” Kizziar said via email. 

The array of symptoms that these patients face often includes some sort of respiratory distress, which is commonly identified by exercise intolerance and shortness of breath, according to Sanville. This leads to many referrals of patients to the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at UC Davis Health.

According to two UC Davis respiratory therapists and coordinators for the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program, Mallorie Mullendore and Veronica Encarnacion, the program has been treating patients referred from the Post-COVID-19 Clinic for nearly two years. 

“The UC Davis Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program is an AACVPR [American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation] accredited program that assist[s] patients with lung conditions through education, exercise, motivation and support,” Encarnacion and Mullendore said via email. “Our first Post COVID referral was in January 2021. We have continued to see a rise in Post COVID referrals. We have learned to be innovative and adaptive to everyone[‘s] needs to best assist their progression.”

The program is eight weeks long and includes both in-person treatment sessions and virtual education sessions, according to Encarnacion and Mullendore. So far, patients have generally responded well and have seen improvements in their post-COVID-19 condition. 

 “Even though we’ve struggled to define exactly what is causing these symptoms for these patients, they do seem to get better when you put them in a supervised and very defined, graded exercise program,” Sanville said. 

The Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at UC Davis Health has become a crucial provider of treatment for these patients, and it is likely going to continue in this way as the Post-COVID-19 Clinic sees more patients with lingering symptoms. 

Additionally, the general field of respiratory therapy has been a pioneer for treatment of respiratory distress caused by COVID-19, asserting its importance within the healthcare system. 

“I feel that the demand for respiratory therapy is going to continue to remain,” Mullendore said via email. “The COVID-19 pandemic has raised awareness of the respiratory care profession, and many people both inside and outside of health care have a better understanding of the important role RTs [Respiratory Therapists] play in the nation’s health care system – inpatient and outpatient care.” 


Written by: Lilly Ackerman — science@theaggie.org