Recovering From COVID-19 - Washington DC VA Medical Center
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Recovering From COVID-19

Army Veteran Andre Thomas began his military service as a medic.

Army Veteran Andre Thomas began his military service as a medic.

Monday, April 20, 2020
After a 28-day hospitalization at the Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center undergoing treatment for COVID-19, Army Veteran Andre Thomas is now recovering comfortably in his own home.

"It's good to be home, it was a scary time for me and my family," Thomas said in a very scratchy voice.

The 63-year-old former Army Medic was hospitalized March 13 and was placed on a ventilator when he needed assistance breathing on his own. After being removed from the ventilator, the real work of recovering from COVID-19 began.

While still hospitalized, physical therapists noticed that during activity, Thomas' heart rate increased, and his oxygen saturation levels dropped. This would create anxiety that was hindering his therapy and recovery.

Physical therapists helped Thomas learn to use the manual incentive spirometer, a plastic cylinder that pushes air deeper into the nooks and crannies of the lungs. They also helped him learn pursed lip breathing exercises and postures for increasing his lung capacity. These strategies helped, but it was obvious that Thomas was going to need a longer-term Respiratory Wellness Plan.

Adding Integrated Health and Wellness to the Recovery Process
The Integrated Health and Wellness (IHW) team was consulted and conducted phone visits while Thomas was still hospitalized. They led him through different breathing exercises including diaphragmatic breathing, counted breath with exhalation times longer than inhalation, and three-part breathing. Thomas practiced these exercises three times a day for at least ten minutes at a time.

IHW team members also provided Thomas with access to two virtual daily meditation therapies, including group meditation and iRest Yoga Nidra Meditation and gave him information on downloadable apps, including VA’s Mindfulness Coach, that help with his long-term recovery.

"Mr. Thomas really is a success story of how the multidisciplinary team of health care professionals can work together to save a patient's life and put him on the road to recovery," said Heather Malecki, PT, DPT, the Director of Whole Health/Integrative Health & Wellness.

About the Integrative Health & Wellness Program
The medical center’s IHW Program integrates a “whole health- mind, body and spirit” approach to complement traditional medicine. It includes exercise therapy, yoga, acupuncture, meditation, and relaxation techniques and more. Studies have shown that practicing mindful awareness can support one’s overall health, help with pain and stress management, and even reduce inflammation.

Recovering at Home
He says the one thing that kept him hopeful during his hospitalization was thinking about his family and going home. “Thoughts of seeing my family and grandkids again kept me going.”

After Thomas started to demonstrate improvement in activity tolerance, breathing strategies and relaxation, he met the goals for discharge and went home on April 10.

With the help and support of his fiancé, children and grandchildren, Thomas is making steady progress in his recovery from COVID-19. The VA rehabilitation team visits him via video every two weeks. This allows the rehabilitation physician to monitor Thomas’ progress, and to view his functional ability in the home and to make adjustments to therapy or to order home equipment to maximize the patient’s safety if necessary. He is also being set up with Home Telehealth which will monitor his oxygen levels and blood pressure readings from his home. If the telehealth nurse notices any changes in the numbers, she will follow up and make sure he is still doing well and has not relapsed.

"I'm pretty independent, I’m gonna be fine," said Thomas.

For more information about the VA’s efforts to protect and care for Veterans during the pandemic, visit: https://www.publichealth.va.gov/n-coronavirus/index.asp

To learn more about IHW, visit: https://www.washingtondc.va.gov/Wellness/

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