How the Respiratory Illness Follow-Up Clinic put Jesse Espinoza on the road to recovery

Jesse Espinosa
Jesse Espinosa, research assistant, was grateful for the care he received from the University of Iowa Health Care Respiratory Illness Follow-Up Clinic.

Jesse Espinoza was on high alert when his 16-year-old niece came home from work with the sniffles.

Espinoza, a research assistant for the Institute for Clinical and Translational Science (ICTS) and the Clinical Research Unit (CRU) Laboratory, and his mother, attempted to keep their distance, but soon they both became ill with COVID-19. His niece had been exposed to a co-worker with COVID-19, but she remained healthy.

“I called in to work to tell them that I wasn’t coming in,” says Espinoza. “Then I called the employee health clinic, and they quickly arranged for me to get a COVID test. A few hours after my appointment, they phoned and told me I had tested positive for COVID-19.”

Caring for two

Espinoza continued his caregiver role for his 82-year-old mother, all the while feeling sicker and sicker himself.

“I had severe headaches, a high fever, and a deep painful cough. But I had to get up and feed my mother,” says Espinoza. “I had to take her temperature and check her oxygen.”

Meanwhile, Espinoza continued to fight his own medical battle, with both strength and humor.

“The headaches were horrible,” he recalls. “I felt like I needed a Pez dispenser filled with acetaminophen.”

A long road to recovery

Espinoza remained at home for 20 days, slowly recovering and recuperating.

When I was finally cleared to come back to work, I couldn’t make it through the day. I ended up having to go to urgent care. My cough was awful, my chest hurt, and I couldn’t breathe. I remember feeling nothing but fatigue.

— Jesse Espinoza

He took more time off work and then visited the Respiratory Illness Follow-Up Clinic, one of the first of its kind in the nation.

Specialized care after COVID-19

“The nurses and doctors at the Respiratory Illness Follow-Up Clinic were so friendly, helpful, and put me at ease. After several scans, they determined I had some lung damage,” says Espinoza. “Since I was having a hard time breathing, so they put me on a powder steroid inhaler, which I used for several months until I finally felt better.”

Joseph Zabner, MD, says COVID-19 can cause ongoing health problems. He’s not surprised by Espinoza’s months-long recovery time.

“We have seen many patients, young and old, develop or continue to have lingering medical issues as a result of COVID-19,” says Zabner.

Espinoza doesn’t want anyone to experience the long-lasting symptoms he battled. He hopes everyone takes precautions to protect themselves and others.

“We live in a free country,” he says. “But if it’s for the benefit of someone else, can’t you just take a minute, just put on your mask?”

The University of Iowa Health Care Respiratory Illness Follow-Up Clinic opened last June, to provide care to patients recovering from COVID-19. A team of UI Health Care pulmonologists established the clinic to help those patients whose COVID-19 symptoms linger weeks and months after first being diagnosed.