How long Covid has drastically altered these people's lives in Yorkshire

Long Covid has turned Lana Eardley’s life upside down. She and several other patients talk of their experience. Ismail Mulla reports.

“I spoke to my mum while I was in and out of consciousness. We were saying our goodbyes. That moment is never going to leave me," says Lana Eardley, a 26-year-old long Covid patient.

When Lana Eardley tested positive for Covid on January 13, she thought she would be fine. The 26-year-old, who lives in Huddersfield, had flu-like symptoms but they were “manageable”.

She never imagined the nightmare that would unfold over the next five months that left her fighting for her life as a result of this new virus.

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Six days after testing positive, Ms Eardley had to call for an ambulance. She said: “I live alone and I wasn’t able to breathe at all.”

“It does really restrict you. You have to plan your time. Make sure you’re never having to rush anywhere because you just can’t do it anymore," said Claire Strachan.

Ms Eardley was released from hospital and felt like she was getting better. After her isolation period, her father took her back to the family home in Stoke-on-Trent. However, her ordeal was far from over.

A few days into being back with her family, she collapsed and was hospitalised again. Ms Eardley was diagnosed with several other health conditions triggered by Covid.

In fact, the doctors had to call up virologists in the US to help figure out what was wrong with her so that she could be treated properly.

“I spoke to my mum while I was in and out of consciousness. We were saying our goodbyes,” says Ms Eardley. “That moment is never going to leave me.”

Katrina Cliffe, left, had to shoulder the extra burden Lana Eardley’s absence created at her business.

The operations manager for Huddersfield-based marketing firm KC Communications now has Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-A). It’s a condition where patients present with one major organ failure - in Ms Eardley’s case it’s her heart.

Over half a year on, her life has been altered drastically. She has to use walking aids and has gained weight as a result of being placed on long term steroids. Ms Eardley also faces the prospect of having a pacemaker fitted to her heart.

This is on top of the more common long Covid symptoms.

Over in Harrogate, Claire Strachan works as a freelance PR consultant. She ended up getting Covid in June 2020.

“Covid is not a joke. If you have an employee that has got a sick note or is asking for adaptations because of Covid then please try and address them as much as you can," says Lana Eardley.

Her condition slowly deteriorated and she ended up becoming one of the first people to be seen at the Long Covid clinic in the town when it opened.

She said: “I’ve got breathlessness, tachycardia, my heart rate is over 100 sat down, I’ve got a persistent cough, which also causes laryngitis because it’s irritating my airways.

“They are just trying to manage that with medication but I am now 12 months into it with no signs of improvement at all.”

Ms Strachan has had to significantly reduce her hours and is unable to work full-time anymore.

Speaking through a persistent cough, she said: “It does really restrict you. You have to plan your time. Make sure you’re never having to rush anywhere because you just can’t do it anymore.”

Sara Hawthorn ended up with Covid in the first wave, just as the country was about to enter the first lockdown.

“I ended up in hospital and the doctors told me that it was suspected Covid in March 2020,” the Leeds-based communications specialist says.

She thought her symptoms were improving but by around June her condition had begun to deteriorate.

“I kind of just went back to my life,” Ms Hawthorn says, “Looking back, I realise that was probably a bad idea now. I should have been recuperating a lot longer. I don’t know if I pushed myself too hard.”

Her main symptoms are fatigue related. The fatigue leads to brain fog causing her a lot of confusion. She also suffers from muscular and joint pain.

“If I’m having a good day, I can make it through to about 4pm before I really feel the brain fog starting to hit,” she says. “If it’s a bad day, I’m lucky if I make it to 2pm.”

Dr Katherine Hickman, GP and respiratory lead for NHS Bradford District and Craven Clinical Commissioning Group, says the worst thing anyone can do is rush back before they are better.

“There’s something called pacing whereby you are really going at the pace that your body can cope with and the more you push yourselves, the more likely you are to go backwards,” she says. “It is about listening to your body.”

Long Covid doesn’t just affect the patient and their loved ones, it also has an impact on employers.

Lana Eardley, whose case is more complex than that of others suffering from long Covid, spent five months on the sidelines. She continues to make trips in and out of the hospital.

Her boss Katrina Cliffe has had to shoulder the extra burden Ms Eardley’s absence has created.

The managing director of KC Communications, who employs eight other staff, was herself battling burnout after an uncertain year.

In fact at the time of Ms Eardley’s positive Covid test, she was looking to devolve more responsibility to her staff to enable her to juggle home schooling and keep the business running.

Ms Cliffe said: “We are a small business. She looks after all that admin, finance, taking care of renewals and all those aspects. That had to land back on my lap. It’s been challenging from that point of view.”

During the darker moments, Ms Cliffe concedes to asking herself whether there was any point in continuing to keep Ms Eardley on.

She said: “There were times where I thought ‘how is Lana’s role really adding value to the business?’ Everything is ticking over. Then I would think back to all those positives that she has put in place.”

In recent weeks Lana Eardley has started a phased return. The business is also making adjustments to ensure she is safe at work with all staff set to undergo first aid training.

The managing director of KC Communications would like to see formal support being put in place to help business owners whose staff do face time on the sidelines as a result of long Covid.

Ms Eardley’s message to other employers who have employees suffering from long Covid is to listen to them and believe them.

“Covid is not a joke,” she says. “If you have an employee that has got a sick note or is asking for adaptations because of Covid then please try and address them as much as you can. Everybody deserves to feel dignified at work.”

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James Mitchinson