‘Tomorrow is Going to Be a Good Day’: Benefis Post-COVID-19 Program Helps Hi-Line Woman Recover Her Life

If you are suffering from long COVID, please visit Benefis.org/PostCOVID for more information about the recovery program.

HAVRE – If Donna Brown could get back to just 50% of her normal life through treatment in the Benefis Post-COVID-19 Recovery Program, she was prepared to be satisfied with that.

Donna, a train conductor, contracted COVID at work in July 2021.

“I got up the next day, and I didn’t feel right,” she said.

Soon her entire family was down with the virus.

Donna’s first symptoms were body aches and a horrible migraine, but she couldn’t figure out where in her brain the pain was centered. She tried to attribute it to wildfire smoke but then tested positive for COVID.

Ten days in, Donna had moved from COVID into long COVID, a condition where symptoms outlast the initial infection. Her headache was nearly unbearable. She reached out for help, but no one seemed to have any treatment ideas.

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Donna’s migraine lasted for a month. Her hands trembled so much she had to use both to hold her phone. She couldn’t write. A “dry, horrible cough that never went away” sapped her strength. Her eyesight was blurrier. Within a few minutes on the elliptical, she was gasping for air.

She’d always found sleep easy to come by, but suddenly she was popping awake at 2 or 3 and up for the day, trying to survive on four to five hours of sleep a night.

“You heal when you sleep, and it affected my sleep for the longest time,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep. I never rested. I wasn’t healing.”

The brain fog scared her the most. She had to write down even the most basic of daily tasks. She’d forget how to make eggs at breakfast, and she’d lose her keys. She’d drive her children somewhere only to forget where they were going. Always a quick thinker, she couldn’t think of the right word or even put together thoughts.

“It was so isolating. I was embarrassed when I tried to speak. You go your whole life able to think and then it’s just gone. Everything you once knew is gone,” she said.

“It was like one day someone turned off the lights and my mind was gone,” she said. “All of a sudden this huge catastrophe flipped my life upside down.”

Donna thought this was just how her life was going to be going forward. She took solace in her horses, even as caring for them was more difficult than before.

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In the fall, a nurse friend of Donna’s suggested she reach out to the Benefis Post-COVID-19 Recovery Program, which brings together a wide range of specialties such as primary care, pulmonary, cardiology, ear, nose, and throat, neurology, infectious disease, gastroenterology, physical and occupational therapy, speech language pathology, mental health, and pharmacy to treat the complex, new condition of long COVID.

“I’m so glad I did,” she said. “My quality of life was not good.”

Ryann Popa, a family nurse practitioner in the program, legitimized what Donna was going through and helped guide her path to recovery.

“I’d felt like I was going crazy with all these symptoms,” Donna said.

Dr. Brad Nieset, who leads the Post-COVID Program, helped Donna dial in medication that cleared her mind.

Seven months and one day after she tested positive for COVID, Donna was deemed 100% recovered.

“I’m lucky I found this office, and I’m so glad I was able to come out of long COVID,” she said. “I felt like this was just my new way of life, from active and healthy to the opposite. It was a low place.”

Once more on her feet, Donna said she was excited to finally return to work in the railyard the day after her interview.

“Tomorrow is going to be a good day,” she said.