On March 12, 2020, Nerea's mother, who is an ICU nurse, had the first symptoms of covid and the next day her daughter, who is 12 years old, got it. First they had mild fever, cough and dyspnoea. The mother - she wants to remain anonymous -, 43, had very serious breathing problems for three weeks and now if she makes efforts she drowns, but Nerea has had it much worse and even today, January 12, 2021, she cannot live a completely normal life.
After the respiratory symptoms, she had very strong diarrhoea and headaches, until last June when she had "horrible" eye pain, dizziness, vomiting and paralysis of the lower jaw. "It looked like a stroke", the mother says, who explains that Nerea was finally admitted to hospital despite doctors ruling out that it had anything to do with the covid. They had called the PDA before, but were simply told that the symptoms would go away.
In fact, as denounced by the Colectivo de Afectados y Afectadas Persistentes por el Covid-19 (translated as " Collective of People Affected Persistently by Covid-19"), if the "invisibility" of cases of persistent covid is "worrying", it is even more so in children. For this reason, when Nerea's mother found out through the collective that the Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital in Badalona wanted to set up a persistent covid paediatric unit for adolescents and pre-adolescents in Catalonia, she did not hesitate to sign up.
In Can Ruti (Badalona), on the first day she had a lung ultrasound scan - they saw that only 40% of her right lung was functioning -, analytical tests, a chest X-ray and she was visited by the rehabilitator, who proposed breathing exercises to exercise her diaphragm. In fact, for cases like this one, which presents different symptoms derived from covid, the head of the paediatric service of Can Ruti, Maria Méndez, highlights the importance of creating a comprehensive and multidisciplinary unit that has specialists in infectious diseases, neurology, pneumology and cardiology, and works with the Guttmann Institute for those who need cognitive rehabilitation. For a time, Nerea also had neurological problems. "Her arms and legs would cramp up and I had to help her get off the couch like a 90-year-old woman", she says.
In addition, as Dr. Mendez points out, psychologists and psychiatrists also play an important role. "They can't meet friends or play sports because they're tired and weak, and some of them can't even go to school and have to drop out", Dr. Mendez says, who says most of the time it affects girls who are between 14 and 16 years old. Luckily, Nerea has not had to need this kind of support even though until June she only left home to go to the doctor, and even now she can't do, for example, physical education in high school; and she also finds it much harder to concentrate when it comes to studying. Above all, however, as in most cases, she gets tired very quickly, and is constantly weak and tired.
Since the Can Ruti programme started on 15 December, and since Nerea is attending it, she has taken a very important step forward. "Even though we don't know if they will be cured completely or how long it will take, what is certain is that with physical and neurocognitive help they will improve a lot", Méndez says, and explains that at the moment they are only treating 14 patients - there are more on the waiting list - and they haven't had to allocate extra resources to the project, but if they have an avalanche of requests, they will have to rethink this. Also next Thursday, Can Ruti has already organized a video call with different hospitals in Catalonia in order to spread the project.