CALGARY -- Most people do not die of COVID-19 but many who recover, even from mild cases, are left with affects weeks or months later, that can be life-changing.

Calgary artist Stacey Robins used to focus on custom-painted fashions, even selling a couple of pairs of her shoes to NFL players, but all that changed after getting sick.

Since COVID, with the tremor in my hand, I can’t do it anymore so I’ve had to put painting on pause,” said Robins.

Long Hauler

And not just in the short-term.

“It’s been nine months.”

The 36 year-old was teaching at a conference in California in March when the pandemic hit. She and her mother both got mildly sick before tests were widely available but her doctor suspects it was COVID-19.

Stacey Robbins

Robins’ is facing debilitating symptoms many others are experiencing including severe headaches, memory problems and feeling electric shocks in her legs.

“Not only do some people have lingering symptoms, these (so-called) long-haulers,” said Craig Jenne, an infectious disease specialist with Univeristy of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. “We are also seeing an increasing amount of evidence that people may feel fine but there have been changes inside their body.”

It’s affecting not just lungs but in some cases the heart, brain and kidneys.

'Post-viral fatigue'

One Calgary physiotherapist treating post-COVID-19 patients says a common symptom is post-viral fatigue which causes extreme exhaustion even after a simple task.

“It’s life-changing,” said Jessica DeMars owner of Breathe Well Physio.

“I mean can you imagine getting through your day with the only thing you can possibly do is shower and maybe make a meal?”

DeMars said the people she is treating are in their 30s, 40s and 50s and suffered only mild cases of COVID-19.

“These are typically young, healthy, working individuals that are no longer able to work.”

Experts say it’s important for anyone facing long-term symptoms to seek support both for themselves and to improve understanding about the impact.

“As tragic as fatalities are, they really are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Jenne.

“So if you’re not feeling right, that’s OK - you’re not alone. Please talk to your doctor.”

Robbins said it's important to consider that the outcomes are not only death or full-recovery.

“There’s that spot in between. There’s no guarantee that you’re going to recover,” she explained.

“It can deeply affect your life, and take away the things you love.”

For now, Robins is using digital art skills to make colouring books but hopes one day she will be able to continue her passion of painting.

She is one of the many people experiencing symptoms who are coming together through a Facebook page called COVID Long Haulers Support Group Canada.