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UCHealth respiratory therapists help woman with COVID-19 lung damage

Stephanie Lopez, 33, thanks the pulmonology clinic for helping her get back to a normal life without oxygen tanks.

THORNTON, Colo. — Stephanie Lopez has taken the pandemic seriously from the beginning. Still, the 33-year-old was also confident that if she were to get the virus, she would easily overcome it.

“I’ve never smoked, I’m so young, I diet all the time, I eat really healthy foods, so I just didn’t really understand what was happening to me.”

Stephanie was shocked when she became so sick after her COVID-19 diagnosis in October.

“[I had a friend who said] watch, you’re just going to wake up out of bed, you’re going to jump up and want to run and be your normal, active self. And I was like, I don’t see that happening! I feel so miserable right now! Then day 11 hit, and I was just like, oh my God," she said. "I feel like a million bucks.”

That feeling lasted for weeks until November hit, and breathing became difficult.

Credit: stephanie lopez

“I went downstairs, I made my coffee and I was just completely out of breath. I was gasping for air.”

Her doctor examined her lungs and told her she had severe damage from COVID-19.

“He said, ‘Steph, your lungs are almost like a woman’s lungs who has smoked for 30 years. He told me it was all caused from scar tissue from COVID. It just lingers around, and it doesn’t go away for months.”

She felt trapped, scared and helpless as she relied on oxygen tanks to breathe. Even then, she still had a hard time keeping up with her two young children.

Credit: stephanie lopez

After spending weeks in and out of hospitals, she finally got into UCHealth’s Pulmonology Clinic at the University of Colorado Hospital.

“She was nervous, like a lot of patients,” UCHealth respiratory therapist Hector Grajeda said. “She was one of the youngest patients I’ve seen.”

Grajeda has spent years helping patients with their lung and respiratory conditions.

COVID-19 patients have been added to the mix since May, but Grajeda is concerned that many COVID-19 survivors do not know that they can get help for the persistent breathing problems they could be facing.

“[Tailored exercise regimens] improve your endurance a lot quicker than just your regular, standard exercise,” Grajeda said. “By doing that [with Stephanie] and teaching some breathing techniques, and also just supporting her and telling her we’re going to do this together, we’re going to be here until you fully restore, you fully recover; that’s what happened.”

It took about two months of rehab, two days a week, for Stephanie to finally get off of oxygen and be able to get back to exercising and living normally.

Credit: Stephanie Lopez

“I feel like it really changed my life knowing that I have my health back and that I can take my kids to the park and chase them around because they love to play tag and do the things we used to do that I wasn’t able to do when I got sick.”

She has found a new life purpose in sharing her story with others and making sure other COVID-19 survivors know that they do not have to live in pain.

“Now, when I’m walking around, everything just feels so much brighter, and there’s way more purpose.”

Stephanie asks that those who are suffering or have survived COVID-19 to reach out to her on Instagram: @She_Faded_It.

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