After months of post-COVID complications, Darcy gets the coordinated, expert care she needs

Darcy Havel-Sturdevant sitting on a couch
With expert pulmonology care and direct referrals to cardiologists and other specialty care doctors, the Post COVID-19 Clinic is helping Darcy manage the unpredictable, debilitating long-term effects of her case of COVID-19.

While most of the world moves cautiously toward life after COVID-19, Darcy Havel-Sturdevant has been forced to follow a different path.

Darcy spends every day managing unpredictable, debilitating long-term effects of the disease. She also copes with feelings of hopelessness brought on by living with a serious illness that is not yet well understood.

“It’s hard to accept that this is my new post-COVID body,” says Darcy, 33, of Iowa City, Iowa. “I used to run and lift weights. Now I have to change my mentality to what I can realistically accomplish.”

Darcy tested positive for COVID-19 on April 29, 2020. But unlike most cases, Darcy’s symptoms never went away. Months later, fatigue, fever, serious cognitive impairment, and chronic migraine headaches continued to make it impossible for her to return to her normal life.

Darcy’s pulmonary specialist referred her to the University of Iowa Health Care Post COVID-19 Clinic. It’s the only clinic of its kind in Iowa, with a staff of expert pulmonologists and infectious disease specialists dedicated to follow-up care for COVID-19 patients.

While Darcy was referred by a doctor, anyone who tested positive for COVID-19 and has since been discharged from their care can make an appointment for follow-up care at the clinic, where they’ll get a comprehensive assessment from a certified pulmonologist and, if necessary, direct referrals to any other specialists they’ll need to see for their care.

Through her own experiences and through participation in online communities of post-COVID patients, Darcy has learned that it can be a huge and frustrating challenge to find providers who are prepared to recognize and address long-term post-COVID needs. She says the Post COVID-19 Clinic team has given her hope for a return to better health.

This clinic has fantastic doctors who listened to me and made me truly feel like an individual, and they’re giving me peace of mind—performing labs and spending hours reviewing my medical history. It all adds up to excellent care.

— Darcy Havel-Sturdevant

Months of deteriorating health

About four years ago, Darcy weighed 300 pounds after giving birth to her daughter. Determined to live healthier, she changed her diet and exercised every day. Within two years, she had cut her weight in half and felt well-equipped to keep pace with her toddler.

But ever since a severe case of pneumonia in November 2019, Darcy has struggled to regain her health. In the early months of 2020, when she started noticing respiratory illness symptoms, including extreme shortness of breath, she couldn’t be sure if she was feeling the lingering effects of pneumonia or the onset of COVID-19.

She was conscientious about getting tested, but two tests came back negative before her positive test in April. At the same time, she had been diagnosed with pneumonia again.

After multiple doctor visits, tests, and rounds of medication, Darcy’s health continued to take wild twists and turns—terrible ear infections, nausea, and dizziness. In June, the migraines began, followed by cognitive issues that never went away.

“Brain fog and memory issues kicked in,” she says. “I started forgetting things, like tasks that I said I was going to do. It’s devastating when I have a 4-year-old who needs attention.”

Taking control

With her referral to the Post COVID-19 Clinic, Darcy had a plan for her care and a sense of control and direction that she hadn’t had in months.

From her first visit with pulmonologist Alejandro Comellas, MD, Darcy knew that she was seeing providers who understood her frustrations and who were actively working to deliver the best post-COVID health care available, including coordinating her care with other physicians.

“Dr. Comellas was very easy to work with and listened to all of my questions and concerns,” she says. “He was able to make some referrals to wonderful doctors whom I am still seeing.”

One of her first visits was with infectious disease specialist Loreen Herwaldt, MD, who studied Darcy’s medical records to get a complete picture of her health and her care since 2019.

“Dr. Herwaldt was a godsend,” Darcy says. “She took so much time to really help me and answer all of my questions. I could not ask for a better infectious disease doctor to be on my care team.”

Those early visits were pivotal in creating Darcy’s personalized treatment plan.

‘In good hands’

Darcy appreciates the work of all of her providers, going back to the care she received for pneumonia in 2019.

“I had a health care team that helped me navigate my journey with COVID,” she says. “That created a support network that ultimately led me to Dr. Comellas.”

As a result, she has found post-COVID care that includes a plan and gives her confidence that her quality of life can be restored.

“I feel like I have a really good post-COVID care team, and that is thanks to the Post COVID-19 Clinic,” Darcy says. “I know I am in good hands.”

Iowa City, Iowa