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Lincoln COVID-19 Long Hauler going places without oxygen tank; recovering with pulmonary rehab

Published: Nov. 1, 2021 at 6:45 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Kelli Finke is recovering from COVID-19 even a year after being diagnosed. Finke was diagnosed in October of 2020, and is using pulmonary rehabilitation at CHI Health St. Elizabeth.

Finke is halfway through her rehabilitation program. She pushes herself, several times a week, through a variety of exercises, like the elliptical.

“The elliptical and I have a love-hate relationship, but I know it’s probably the one thing I know that makes me stronger than anything else that I’m doing,” said Finke. “This is me. I want to get better.”

Being a COVID Long Hauler means her lung capacity is weakened. Pulmonary rehabilitation is helping her to start going places without the oxygen tank she’s depended on since getting out of the hospital. She’s now able to roam the house without oxygen, walk out to her car and do other small household activities without the burden of the oxygen tank.

Finke says she has become less reliant on her oxygen tank when going places
Finke says she has become less reliant on her oxygen tank when going places(Madison Pitsch)

Finke has often described herself as a person on the move, so getting back to her normal state has been a challenge.

“My body has been idle for a year,” said Finke. “Trying to put it back into motion is teaching me a lesson.”

Pulmonary rehabilitation is designed to help people weakened by COVID-19 by building back their lung strength by using resistance bands, weight lifting and cardio options. Tiffany Quicke is a respiratory therapist that works with Finke.

Finke lifts weights in pulmonary rehab
Finke lifts weights in pulmonary rehab(Madison Pitsch)

“If we build up the muscles then they require less oxygen, which lets the lungs use that oxygen for their breathing,” said Quicke.

A doctor who cared for Finke, and other COVID-19 patients, at St. Elizabeth said COVID-19 weakened her lungs’ elasticity making it harder for her to breathe.

“A good analogy would be like, you’re breathing through your mask and all the sudden you put just a little bit of water or liquid on your mask and it gets really really hard to breathe,” said Dr. Cory Shield, a hospitalist. “That’s kind of what happens in your lung, the air and gas exchange is just not able to happen.”

Finke’s inability to breathe led to an inability to do other basic tasks. Finke, however, is fighting back and already feeling better.

“I’m going to keep pushing myself,” said Finke. “Whatever they can throw at me, I’m going to try, or die trying. That’s really just it.”

This story is part of a series on Kelli’s recovery; for the first part follow this link. Be sure to watch out for her graduation from rehabilitation in the coming month.

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