Afraid to ask if he will ever recover from illness
A look at one 49-year-old amateur bodybuilder’s battle with long-haul COVID-19 and the toll it has taken on him
Eric Leckie was in the best shape of his life. • At age 49, the amateur bodybuilder worked out six times a week, often twice a day, and could bench press 405 pounds. • But 10 months ago, everything changed. • That’s when Leckie, of Mustang, noticed his senses of taste and smell were gone — marking the start of his ongoing fight with COVID-19 that has left him severely fatigued and in pain to this day. Leckie was diagnosed in April with post-acute COVID syndrome, which is doctor-speak for long-haul COVID — when people suffer from the lingering effects of the virus.
Since December 2020, he’s had pneumonia four times and visited the emergency room eight times because of new or worsening COVID or post-COVID symptoms.
He sees four doctors a month for heart, lung and gastrointestinal problems he developed because of the virus.
Leckie also struggles with near-constant fatigue that makes it hard to get through his work day as the chief engineer at the Waterford Hotel in Oklahoma City.
“I get so frustrated mentally sometimes because my whole life has changed in a matter of 10 months, and I can’t do the things I love to do, like lift weights and play sports,” he said. “I can’t do any of that anymore, and just getting through a day takes everything I’ve got.”
Leckie said the extreme fatigue also makes it hard for him to be present for his wife and three teenagers. He’s usually in bed by 8 nightly, so just going to watch his daughter cheer with her pom squad in the evening can be an exhausting experience, he said.
Symptoms drag on and on
As a healthy man with no serious underlying medical conditions, Leckie largely wasn’t concerned about COVID-19 before he contracted the virus. Now, he feels like a shell of himself. His heart rate is constantly elevated and his mind doesn’t feel as sharp. He gets headaches more days of the week than not.
Sleep doesn’t come easily without prescription medication, and he doesn’t eat much because it typically makes him nauseous or causes intestinal problems.
There are times during the day when Leckie feels as though he’s been punched in the stomach, causing him to lose his breath and feel a sharp pain that makes him double over.
“I don’t dare ask the question: ‘Am I ever going to recover?’ ” he said. “I don’t really know if I want to know that answer.”
There are some signs of improvement. Leckie has more energy than he did a few months ago and some of the crackling in his lungs has receded.
He’s optimistic 12 weeks of rest and relaxation after an upcoming back surgery, to correct an injury from about a year ago, could give his body time to heal from COVID-19.
Leckie said the COVID-19 vaccine saved his life because he believes if he had contracted the delta variant while already in such a fragile state, the virus would have killed him.
“There’s no denying the vaccinations will help you,” he said. “They may keep you from getting pneumonia, they may keep you from going through what I’m going through. You may be sick for one or two days, but that’s nothing compared to the rest of your life.”
Despite getting fully vaccinated in the spring, Leckie still worries about contracting a breakthrough case because he’s not sure what effect it would have on his already frail immune system. Should he get reinfected, Leckie expects the symptoms would be less severe because of the vaccine.
As for those who shun the COVID-19 vaccines, Leckie called it “a complete disregard” for the rest of the nation. He said he doesn’t understand why some people view the COVID-19 vaccine differently from other routine inoculations, like those for the flu and polio.
“There’s lots of opinions out there,” he said. “I choose to believe in the medical industry. I choose to believe in the people who are fighting day and night to find a solution to this.”
No specific treatment for long-haul COVID
About 10% of COVID-19 patients become long-haulers.
Fatigue is most common symptom, but long-haul COVID patients also can suffer from headaches, cough, shortness of breath and brain fog that can make it hard to concentrate, said Dr. Jeff Cruzan, president of Integris Medical Group.
Doctors are trying to learn more about how and why COVID-19 attacks some patients for an extended period of time after the initial infection. It appears to be more common in people who had serious COVID-19 cases, as opposed to those with mild or asymptomatic infections, Cruzan said.
“This disease, as we know it, has only been ongoing for a year and a half, and so we are still acquiring data, analyzing that data and trying to develop treatment options for these individuals,” he said.
There is no specific treatment for long-haul syndrome as a whole, but doctors can treat the symptoms as they arise, Cruzan said.
Integris launched in the spring a post-COVID recovery program that helps connect patients to primary care physicians and specialists who can help them recover from the virus. Cruzan said the program is currently full.
While much of the narrative of the pandemic has focused on how many people died from COVID-19, Leckie hopes his story can be an example of the extreme and lasting toll the virus can have on some survivors.
He also hopes his experience encourages more Oklahomans to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Although Leckie doesn’t know why COVID-19 hit him so hard and whether he’ll ever be able to recover fully, his faith in God and confidence in his doctors helps him cope.
“Eventually, they’re going to have answers,” he said. “They just don’t have them now.”
“I get so frustrated mentally sometimes because my whole life has changed in a matter of 10 months.” Eric Leckie on suffering symptoms of post-acute COVID syndrome