‘I feel lucky to be alive’: long Covid patients reveal their 18 months of misery

Helen Oakleigh, left, and Nic Mitchell, right, are among a small group of long Covid sufferers struck down for more than a year and a half

One of the UK’s first long Covid patients says the condition left her unable to even walk her dogs around the local park for a year and a half.

Nic Mitchell feels like she has aged 20 years and is only half as mobile now as when she first got coronavirus symptoms – on Christmas Day 2019.

The media marketing consultant has battled a host of horrifying health problems, loneliness and misdiagnosis which left her going into the first lockdown believing she had blood cancer.

Ms Mitchell, 53, is one of three sufferers living with the condition for more than 18 months to exclusively speak to Metro.co.uk about the devastating impact the virus has had on their lives.

Another patient – a previously fit cyclist in her 30s who is now wheelchair bound – has lost all of her hair and says she feels lucky to be alive.

The trio’s infections came prior to testing becoming widely available in the UK, and months before long Covid was recognised.

Ms Mitchell’s story also appears to confirm widely held suspicions that the virus was in the UK long before the first official case in late January 2020.

It took Nic Mitchell 18 months to walk her dogs around their local park again

Explaining that she is still unable to work, Ms Mitchell said: ‘I feel like two decades of my life have been taken away from me.

‘I try to remain positive and hopeful through distraction techniques but I am fearful that nobody cares.

‘I feel like one of the casualties of war who was swept aside and nobody has come back to check I am still breathing.’

The former BBC journalist also opened up about her guilt over infecting friends earlier that month and visiting Cheltenham Racecourse while symptomatic two days before a now infamous ‘super-spreader’ event.

Like many of the more than 1 million sufferers in the UK, she has faced relapses and good days and bad days since.

Some morning she ‘crawls into the kitchen to feed my dogs’ and can’t stand up to have a shower.

Ms Mitchell first got symptoms on Christmas Day 2019

But she has hope for the future, adding: ‘I am definitely in a more recovered position now, in that most days I am mobile and can do daily tasks.’

Ms Mitchell flew to St Lucia on December 23 after staying at a Gatwick hotel, where she believes passengers from Wuhan were also sleeping.

By Christmas Day, she was unable to taste her lunch in the Caribbean destination.

Back home in the UK on January 6, after flying home, she then saw friends at a party and says ‘without exception’ they all got ill.

The UK’s first official positive cases came weeks later on January 29, but Ms Mitchell – who had a positive antibody test in February – is convinced there were cases earlier.

Based in Cheltenham, she went to the racecourse to visit a vet two days before the notorious March 2020 festival, which went ahead despite widespread concerns.

Among her various symptoms were swollen and discoloured joints

Ms Mitchell says she was symptomatic at the time – but it is unlikely she would have been infectious after getting the disease months previously.

‘I felt so guilty when I realised how contagious it was,’ she recalls.

‘Everybody had it down to the races but I was sitting there crying my eyes out thinking I had infected everyone.’

On her symptoms, she says Covid-19 initially felt ‘like a fire-breathing dragon was inside me’.

She faced swollen, discoloured joints and could not open her eyes because of sensitivity to light.

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Now she can walk ‘quite easily most days’ – but will be tired the next day.

She was delighted to take her own dogs around their local park for the first time in 18 months in June – but though she is ‘hopeful’ of a full recovery, says she is constantly fighting fatigue and has felt low, lonely and isolated.

Ms Mitchell also hit out at Government provision for long Covid and says she has been unable to see a doctor about the condition for a year.

The Government has backed a number of new services, funding and studies for the condition, but advocates say more needs to be done and the care available to patients varies dramatically.

Also still suffering is Helen Oakleigh, who flew to Wuhan on January 1, 2020 – having visited the Chinese embassy the week before.

Helen Oakleigh was an active, sporty woman in her 30s before being struck down (Picture: Jordy)
She has since lost her hair after a ‘huge relapse’ last August

She got sick on January 2, with what she thinks was Covid-19.  

Ms Oakley had the beginnings of long Covid in February 2020, but then suffered a ‘huge relapse’ in August, which has left her heavily disabled and saw her hair fall out.

The actor, writer and director, in her 30s, developed heart issues six weeks after the initial ‘flu-like infection’ – but thought she was ‘nearly there’ before being struck down and left using a wheelchair almost a year ago.

Ms Oakleigh, from London, previously played team sports several times a week, trained, worked out and ‘cycled everywhere’ but is still facing a host of daily symptoms.

She said: ‘In the last 18 months, my life has been changed from a busy, sporty, active life to that of one in daily pain, tremor, wheelchair [use], losing all my hair and organ complications.

Ms Oakleigh had been acting, singing and directing before the illness
She has since lost her hair but remains hopeful of a full recovery

‘I relapsed hard with suspected heart attacks, being paralysed, temporary blindness, loss of speech and [was] bed-bound for weeks or months at a time. The symptoms are a mix of Alzeimer’s, Lyme disease, Parkinson’s, ME, MS and so much more.

‘I feel lucky to be alive as for many months – particularly since month eight when I relapsed badly – this didn’t feel certain.’

There are growing concerns among doctors and experts about a new wave of long Covid cases, which can also affect children, as restrictions ease.

Meanwhile, Mike Raven believes he passed his 18-month anniversary on Sunday, after a suspected infection at an event in London in January 2020.

The 77-year-old retiree had no underlying health conditions and was an active gardener who played golf at least once a week – but now gets ‘very exhausted at times’, suffers bad pains and breathlessness.

Though he hopes to resume golf soon, he says his overall condition has deteriorated since he first suspected he had long Covid, having described the initial infection as ‘much nastier than flu’.

The Long Covid Support Group founder Claire Hastie told Metro.co.uk that many of the 42,000 members of her Facebook group are yet to recover.

‘Even those who fell ill 18 months ago are still far from their pre-Covid selves’, she explains.

‘While some have seen some improvements, others remain as incapacitated as ever.

‘A large number of first wavers will reach that grim milestone in the next few weeks, with no knowledge of if, when or how fully they will recover.’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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