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Emotional Impact

Posted on March 23, 2022 in Patient Stories

COVID Survivors Find Support at Fort Sanders Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation

It started with a sleepless night. It was February 2021, and Connie Smith assumed she was restless because of grief and distress. Her mother had passed away the day before.

“I had no underlying health issues, I had no respiratory issues, I’ve never smoked, and yet I got COVID in a severe way,” Smith says. “I will tell you that when I walked in the emergency room that day I did not think I would come home from the hospital.”

With care and prayer, Smith was able to leave the hospital about a week later, but the effects of COVID and pneumonia would stay with her for five long and lonely months. She had been energetic, active and social, but after COVID she was weak and in a world apart from the life she loved.

”COVID is not just a physical ailment,” Smith says. “It takes its toll on you emotionally.”

A Post-Pandemic Society

Smith is one of a growing number of people having survived severe cases of COVID, but left to cope with the emotional impact of a lengthy isolation, a long recovery and long-term effects. Smith is focusing instead on how far she’s come and next steps to keep improving her quality of life one day at a time. An important step has been pulmonary rehab at Fort Sanders Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation.

“Pulmonary rehab has made all the difference for me,” Smith says. “When you start to improve you can become better in all the areas you need to be better in.”

Fort Sanders Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation is a medically supervised program that helps rebuild strength and stamina in patients whose lungs and hearts are challenged by conditions beyond their control. COVID has brought a new type of patient into the program, and they find compassionate care and emotional support after their bodies have been battered by the virus.

Smith was on oxygen full time and barely able to go the equivalent of 700 feet in an initial six-minute test walk. After her last prescribed session she could go 1100 feet without the help of an oxygen tank, and now only uses oxygen at night.

“For a lot of our patients this is new and it’s scary, and they have no idea what to expect, especially people who’ve been healthy all their lives,” says exercise physiologist Emily Hunley.

Moving Forward

Smith has moved into a maintenance program where she pays an out-of-pocket fee to keep using the facilities and equipment under the continued supervision of medical personnel. But she also makes an effort to encourage other COVID survivors she meets at rehab.

Smith lets them know it’s important to have a shift in mindset, from trying to get back to “normal” to accepting the long-term effects of COVID, and moving forward with pulmonary rehabilitation and an attitude of gratitude.

“I’m just thankful to be a survivor, and I’ll take what whatever comes with it,” she says.

Fort Sanders Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation is open to heart and lung patients who have been referred by their physician. To learn more, visit