This article is part of a series called “COVID Survivor Stories,” where we profile the struggles of those who survived a diagnosis of COVID-19, as they deal with the repercussions of recovery.
As patient zero in Naugatuck, Connecticut, Kim Willis-Rinaldi had no idea what to expect when she came down with COVID-19.
The geriatric therapist had known COVID-19 to be a virus that mostly affected elderly populations when she tested positive in March of last year, but she was in for a long ride.
“I was so nervous,” she said. “COVID at that time equaled death, it was absolutely so frightening.”
Her whole house had come down with COVID as well, and to add insult to illness, she received negative comments on social media after the town mayor posted a red alert about the first case being reported.
“The comments were horrific,” she said. “It was fear-based, people were asking ‘who brought COVID into our town?'”
Once her family started to recover, Willis-Rinaldi was starting to notice even more symptoms.
She got a shingles-like rash. which was diagnosed by a dermatologist as shingles. Then, her hair started to fall out, and her joints became inflamed. Chronic fatigue also became an issue.
Additionally, she started developing mental health concerns and began going to therapy herself.
Going to therapy helped Willis-Rinaldi overcome some of her vaccine hesitancy, as she expressed skepticism even while she was one of the first to be eligible in her state, based on her employment at a healthcare facility.
“I didn’t know what it would do to me,” she said of the vaccine. “I thought, ‘what if I take this? What if I have an anaphylactic shock?'”
After she got the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, her initial COVID symptoms started to re-emerge. Then, her long hauler symptoms started to improve.
“They went away all of a sudden,” she said of her symptoms. “I wasn’t as fatigued anymore.”
Her advise to those who are hesitant now is to take the vaccine.
“You must think seriously about getting it,” she said, “Not only for yourself, but for humankind.”
Willis-Rinaldi also touts the benefit of being able to help scientists continue to do ongoing research on different ways to control the virus.
“These researchers need to have an idea on how we are responding [to the vaccine], so if we don’t take it, how would they know?” she said.
She has also found solace in a COVID survivor online support group called Survivor Corps, which is open to survivors nationwide.
“I found there were other people out there like me, who weren’t getting better,” she said. “The group was a lifeline.”
In spite of all the progress that has been made with vaccines available to fight COVID, Willis-Rinaldi has been saddened by how long it has taken for people to talk about both the physical and mental pain they have experienced within the last year.
“It’s sad to me to watch the trajectory,” she said. “It’s taken a year for people to talk about the way [the pandemic] has impacted them.”
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