BALTIMORE, Md. — Many hospitals across the country are creating post-COVID clinics to help treat kids with long-lasting symptoms.
One of those clinics is located in Maryland at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in east Baltimore.
While the effects of COVID might not be as severe in most kids, doctors say there is a small group of kids who are not immune from having long-lasting symptoms known as COVID long haulers.
It's been nearly a year since Maisha Walker's daughter Miya tested positive for the Coronovirus, but the symptoms never went away.
“We have wonderful doctors, but we couldn't get any answers. So, every week I would start searching on the internet and I would google on the internet every week, COVID clinic, COVID doctor, COVID specialist,” Walker said.
Walker’s internet search eventually led her to Dr. Laura Malone and the Kennedy Krieger Institute's Pediatric Post COVID-19 Rehabilitation Clinic.
“Our our Post COVID-19 Rehabilitation Clinic is a multidisciplinary clinic, that involves providers from different disciplines. So, it's myself as a pediatric neurologist, my co-director which is Dr. Morrow who is a physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor, and we work with mental health providers and physical therapists and we work actually closely with our neuropsychologists as well,” Malone said.
It's kind of a one-stop shopping approach to treat the many after effects of COVID.
“When we first made an appointment with them, our first appointment, I was so impressed. they had several doctors come in, a neurologist, a social worker, we had physical therapy, they all did lots of tests, and evaluations,” Walker said.
“It can affect all aspects of your life. So, we use providers that have expertise in different areas to say I think that mental health concerns might be playing a role in this aspect, or I feel like fatigue can be improved by doing these types of exercises. We put all of those together, and talk about the patient as a whole. And, it's not just one symptom, it's about how those symptoms are overlaying on each other,” Malone said.
These are symptoms which affect more than just a patient's physical health.
“It’s affecting their ability to perform in school, their grades are dropping, they have to take breaks, and accommodations have to be made to get them back to where they were,” Malone said.
It’s been a difficult time for Miya, who is a high school sophomore who has yet to have a real high school experience.
“I am so ready for this to be over. I just...especially as a teenager in high school, we're all feeling like we're missing out on usual high school experiences, because my school has been all virtual,” Miya Walker said.
We're just getting back to hybrid, but we've all been missing out a lot. So, we're all very eager to go back to school once this is all over, and I'm really eager to go back to dance,” Miya Walker added.
“It's really important for parents to say that if my child is having symptoms for longer than a month, that they should reach out. Whether to their primary care doctor, or to their pediatrician and say 'what other resources are there that can help my child’ or they can come see us at the Kennedy Krieger Institute,” Malone said.
There is still a lot that doctors don't know about long haul symptoms and how long the symptoms last.
“It hasn't exactly been set by the CDC, how long the symptoms need to last for, some say three months, some say a month,” Malone said.
Dr. Malone notes researchers have yet to determine why COVID strikes some children worse than others.
“I wish I knew the answer to that, we're working with other hospitals and institutions across the country to try and understand that,” Malone said.
Parents of children with pre-existing conditions already have concerns about COVID, but Dr. Malone doesn't want to speculate if that makes kids more susceptible to being long haulers.
“We just don't know yet. I think that we are always worried about people that have lung conditions such as asthma with any respiratory illness, but by and large, we're not seeing that every child that has those conditions are the ones who end up having persistent symptoms. So, it's vary varied right now,” Malone said.
Meanwhile, the long-term effects of COVID on the future development of children as they mature into adulthood also remain unknown.
“Everything that we know so far, we have every reason to believe that this is something that is temporary and wouldn't otherwise affect their development, but we don't know that quite yet,” Malone said.
Still, patients coping with long COIVD wonder how much longer they can expect those long-haul symptoms to last.
“It's very varied. Some people feel like they are feeling better after a month or two, if they are experiencing long COVID type of symptoms. Some are still having difficulty up to six months or even longer. So, it depends on the patient and what symptoms they're experiencing,” Malone said.
"I think that's why we really want to try and understand what are some of the underlying patho-physiology that's causing this in order to help figure out a plan for each of those subsets of patients,” Malone added.
Contact the Kennedy Krieger Pediatric Post COVID Rehabilitation Clinic for more information or schedule an appointment.