Long Covid patient in Cambridge tells how simple treatment took her from being almost paralysed to riding a bike in days
Just a few weeks ago, Cambridge businesswoman Adelina Chalmers couldn’t wash herself without help and needed someone to feed her. Friends would bring her food but she couldn’t even heat it up in the microwave – she had forgotten how it worked.
She was having disability aids fitted in her house – a mattress lift, a bath board, a wheelchair-accessible toilet. All because she was experiencing overwhelming, crushing fatigue, brain fog and breathlessness.
After making plans to end her life because she believed she would never recover, Adelina has now discovered a simple treatment that took 30 minutes to administer which has reversed all of her symptoms. And she had gone from being almost paralysed to riding a bike in 12 days.
Adelina, 38, says: “I was desperate. I was investigating going to Dignitas in Switzerland to get myself killed because I didn’t want to live like that. I was talking to my best friends and saying I might have to die. They were shocked and said it’s your decision, I can’t force you to live, but I love you and I will miss you. My friend who had been helping me at home said to me: ‘I will do this forever. I will come and cook and clean for you forever’.
“I mean, I have amazing friends but they shouldn’t have to do that. They came to feed me and changed my bedsheets and did my laundry. And all the time my GP said I was fine and there was nothing wrong with me.
“I want other people to know what I have now discovered and how I recovered because lots of people are suffering like this and there is no need for it.”
Adelina, a business consultant known as the Geek Whisperer, was struck down with Covid-19 in March last year. She fell seriously ill with breathing problems and was hospitalised. But she appeared to have made a full recovery after three months, taking up a new exercise regime in June.
“My GP told me I needed to do more exercise to increase my lung capacity after Covid so I exercised like crazy, 25 to 30 hours a week, because I’m not a half-assed or ‘good enough’ kind of girl. I went all in. Actually that turned out not to be healthy but nobody told me it wasn’t and I lost about 25 kilos over the six months. But then literally six months to the day I started exercising, I relapsed with long Covid symptoms.
“I started getting shortness of breath at the top of the stairs and I thought that’s odd because I can literally run up the stairs. I was worried that maybe I had covid again. And then it just got worse and worse: shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, and by the end of February this year I just couldn’t walk any more. I completely collapsed. I was effectively paralysed. I couldn’t even blink without effort because my eyelids felt like titanium. I couldn’t think; I couldn’t work; I couldn’t speak. I needed people to take me to the toilet and wash me. Overnight it had got really bad and was much worse than Covid itself. I thought I was going to die.”
After speaking with a doctor friend in Europe, Adelina learnt she should have her iron and B12 levels checked following Covid as deficiency in these was being noticed in other long Covid sufferers. She had the tests done through her GP surgery but was told they had come back normal.
“My doctor said to me ‘your blood tests are fine’. He said ‘you have a little bit of low iron but that’s nothing, you shouldn’t be as bad as this’. He said: ‘There’s nothing wrong with you. I don’t know why you feel like this,’ and he gave me some iron tablets’.”
A second round of blood tests showed Adelina’s iron had increased slightly after taking supplements and she says she was told: “There is no explanation for the way that you feel.”
Unable to bear the thought of spending the rest of her life feeling so sick, the businesswoman decided to ask to see her test results.
“I wanted to look at the data,” says Adelina. “And when I saw the results I realised not only was my folate level only 0.01 in the normal range, my ferritin (iron) was just three points within the normal range. So everything was on the edge of normal and it wasn’t normal for me.”
Realising she was at the end of the road with her GP after being told there was nothing wrong, Adelina contacted the Cambridge Iron Clinic at the Nuffield Hospital and met with consultant Dr Andrew Klein to find out whether her iron levels were causing her symptoms.
There, Dr Klein confirmed that her levels of iron and B12 were dangerously low and gave her an iron infusion as well as ordering her regular B12 injections.
Adelina says: “I had an infusion of iron 12 days ago at the Nuffield. The doctor told me within six weeks you will feel absolutely fine.
“I said I can’t believe that because I can barely walk right now. But I was willing to pay anything because I thought I was dying. I was talking to my friends about dignity in dying.
“I had just been offered adaptations for my toilet on the NHS but didn't take it up. It turns out none of it was necessary because I just needed an iron infusion that lasted half an hour.
“It has been 12 days now and I’m 85 per cent better. I can shower on my own, and I can start working again. It’s insane.
“I’ve just been out for a one-hour bike ride and a couple of weeks ago I could barely walk. It’s amazing to feel better but I am furious that this pernicious anemia caused by long Covid wasn’t picked up.
“Before I had the treatment I was getting dementia signs. I looked at the oven and I knew it cooked food but I didn’t know how to turn it on any more. I’d think, what do I do with these buttons?
“Even blinking was difficult. I couldn’t listen to anything. I tried to watch a movie because I was just sitting down like a paralysed person but within 10 minutes I got a migraine from sensory overload.
“I never want to go through it again. It was just torture. If you go on long Covid forums you see hundreds of people with the same symptoms.
“So many people are people suffering from long Covid, like brain fog and fatigue, but the system is set up in such a way that more and more people are told there is nothing wrong with them and they are given inappropriate treatment that delays their recovery and can make them severely disabled. If I hadn’t been given the right treatment I would have ended up disabled.”
Dr Klein told the Cambridge Independent that he had seen many patients with similar symptoms to Adelina’s and that long Covid could be playing a role in making them worse.
He explained: “Certainly the combination of pernicious anaemia and Covid is a nasty one and I have seen quite a lot of it.
“Patients like Adelina describe terrible fatigue. They can’t get out of bed, they can’t work, they can’t exercise, they can’t do anything.
“We think that long Covid may be an autoimmune condition where patients have the Covid virus and it triggers their immune system in an abnormal fashion.
“The body then attacks itself and then in so doing that perpetuates the symptoms of fatigue, exhaustion, shortness of breath, being unable to exercise and so on.
“Along with the autoimmune disease you get poor absorption from the stomach of essential nutrients such as iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D and selenium. Basically the symptoms of long Covid are the same as iron deficiency and B12 deficiency – fatigue, exhaustion, shortness of breath: all the symptoms that Adelina suffered.
“I think the two conditions make each other worse.”
Research just published by the University of Birmingham supports this theory. A study funded by the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium has found that many patients with Covid-19 produce immune responses against their body’s own tissues or organs.
The study, published on June 4 in the journal Clinical & Experimental Immunology, investigated the frequency and types of common autoantibodies produced in 84 individuals who either had severe Covid-19 at the time of testing or in the recovery period following severe Covid-19 and those with milder disease that did not need to attend hospital. These results were compared to a control group of 32 patients who were in intensive care for another reason other than Covid-19.
The study found higher numbers of autoantibodies in the Covid-19 patients than the control group and that these antibodies lasted up to six months.
Dr Klein, from the Nuffield Hospital, said: “Once patients who are very low in B12 and iron receive treatment they feel much much better. There is no doubt about it.”
He added that the problem with NHS blood tests for iron levels and B12 are that the range of results described as normal was a measurement of whole population levels, but that a patient could still suffer symptoms at the lower end of the normal range.
He said: “There is recent research suggesting that the population ‘normal’ is actually low and causes symptoms and that you need to have a higher level than the lowest in the range.
“So patients who have levels the laboratory thinks are normal actually improve with treatment.
“In other words you need to have higher levels than the laboratory tells you.
“Adelina showed that level was not normal for her and she needed a higher level for her body to function properly. B12 is important for the nerves and because the brain is part of the nervous system a lack of B12 will affect the brain’s function. And iron is needed for oxygen carriage around the body. She had very low levels of both so the combination of treatment for both allowed her brain to function better and her body to function better.”
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