MARSHALLBERG — Months after recovering from COVID-19,a Marshallberg resident says he is still experiencing lingering side effects from the disease and is sharing his story in hopes of encouraging others to remain vigilant about preventing its spread.
Tom Hesselink, owner of Budsin Electric Boats in Marshallberg, told the News-Times he received a positive COVID-19 test result March 21, making his the third or fourth confirmed case in Carteret County. The county had just confirmed its first COVID-19 case the day before, March 20.
He doesn’t know exactly when or where he contracted the virus, but Mr. Hesselink was visiting Amsterdam, the Netherlands, for a boat show in early March when, on March 11, President Donald Trump declared a sweeping travel ban to and from Europe. After a few hectic days of rearranging his travel plans, Mr. Hesselink managed to secure a flight home with a layover at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.
“I don’t know where I picked it up, if I picked it up in Amsterdam or if I picked it up at JFK or somewhere else,” he said.
A few days after arriving home, Mr. Hesselink said he began experiencing mild symptoms, including a cough and soreness in the chest, that seemed consistent with COVID-19. Normally, he would have chalked it up to allergies or a cold, and he was even denied a test at first because he didn’t have a fever, but Mr. Hesselink insisted on the test considering he’d just been traveling abroad.
“I didn’t really think anything of it, I just wanted to be sure for my employees’ sake,” he said.
Mr. Hesselink said he already felt better by the time he received the positive result several days after being tested, but he still strictly followed the Carteret County Health Department’s isolation guidelines. He said he even quarantined for an extra week than necessary, just to be safe.
“I just thought I was a happy story because I literally had very few symptoms to begin with and they went away quickly,” he said.
However, around mid-June, Mr. Hesselink said he began experiencing severe fatigue along with a strange “phantom smell” of exhaust fumes. He said he joined a Facebook group for COVID-19 survivors and started reading stories from other people who reported similar symptoms setting in weeks or even months after recovering.
Then, about a month ago, Mr. Hesselink noticed he had an elevated heart rate, one that was so high at times, he ended up being referred to a cardiologist. Despite having no family history of heart problems, he said he’s now on medication to keep his heart rate under control.
In looking through informal polls and other information compiled by COVID-19 survivors, Mr. Hesselink also found others who began experiencing elevated heart rates after recovering.
More than five months after officially recovering from COVID-19, Mr. Hesselink said his symptoms today are worse than when he actually had the disease, with the fatigue, phantom smell and heart issues persisting. And although it’s possible his ongoing health problems are unrelated to COVID-19, he said he’s heard enough anecdotal evidence to be convinced they are related.
“This is the first time in my life I’ve ever been nervous about my health,” he said. Mr. Hesselink is 58 and said he stays relatively healthy.
Studies on the longterm effects of COVID-19 are limited, especially considering the newness of the disease, but some preliminary reports suggest longterm symptoms like Mr. Hesselink’s are, in fact, possible after recovery.
He hopes by sharing his experience with COVID-19, people will take the virus more seriously and do more to help prevent its spread, like wearing a face mask when out in public or around other people. He said even if the disease isn’t particularly deadly, people should still be concerned about the potential effects COVID-19 could have on their longterm health.
“There is a very low death rate proportionate to the amount of people that get it, but the number of people that get it are starting to experience these longterm effects, which are just starting to be studied,” he said. “We don’t really know what we’re up against.
“I thought that the fatigue and the phantom smells would go away over time, and (they) probably will, but this heart issue is a little bit more scary,” he continued. “People need to factor that in when they think about the risk they take.”
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