Former local lawmaker opens up about battle with ‘long-haul’ COVID-19

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — A prominent former Mecklenburg County lawmaker is opening up to Channel 9 about her battle with “long-haul” COVID-19.

Tricia Cotham, who has never smoked, said doctors said her lungs look like those of a smoker of 20 years.

“This is my third time battling COVID. Yes, the third time. And before you jump to conclusions, yes, I’m fully vaccinated and boosted,” she said in a TikTok video. “I’m in a lot of pain. My lungs hurt. I’m mentally drained.”

Over the course of more than two months, Cotham has been documenting her long-haul battle with COVID-19, from small victories like her first shower on day 28 to a trip to the hospital.

“The last thing I wanted to do in this pandemic was end up in the emergency room but when doctors and a nurse tell you that the symptoms that I was suddenly now presenting are considered life-threatening and needed immediate care and you’re the mom to two small boys, you go. You go to the emergency room even if you’re scared,” she said. “When I said goodbye to my sons and to my mother and was wheeled off alone. It was scary. It was hard,” she said in a TikTok video recounting her experience. “I couldn’t believe I was in the emergency room after just the day before I was all dressed up playing with my kids.”

Cotham was experiencing severe shortness of breath before her ER visit. She says she originally went to an urgent care but was rerouted to the emergency room after being told her symptoms were life-threatening. She says doctors were concerned about potential blood clots.

“I didn’t really think I would hear about a blood clot at my age. But since I’ve had such a high blood-pressure issue, I was told that that is a huge factor for women my age,” she said.

Doctors ruled out blood clots but said they will remain a threat, according to Cotham.

“This could happen at any time just based on my history of having COVID for so long, that I’m always at risk for a clot,” she said. “COVID long haulers never end COVID. It stays on.”

Now past day 50, Cotham says she is taking it one step at a time.

“I’m feeling OK,” she said. “Every day or every hour, it changes.”

Her kitchen island is covered in pills and medical devices to treat lingering and long-lasting symptoms of COVID-19. Cotham says she has to use inhalers and drink three liters of water a day. She has IV drips brought to her house every Wednesday.

“My treatment plan consists of a lot of focused breathing, so a lot of inhalers, a lot of steroids, a lot of nebulizers,” Cotham said. “Night is the worst. It’s the hardest. It’s when everything starts to, I think, flare up. I take it tremendous amount of supplements that have been recommended by trials and doctors.”

Atrium Health Senior Director of Advanced Practice Britney Broyhill, who is not associated with Cotham, estimates 10% to 30% of people who get COVID-19 will develop those lingering symptoms, for anywhere from four to 12 weeks post infection.

She helped Atrium start Post COVID Recovery Care, a program dedicated to people dealing with lingering side effects of COVID-19.

“This is a very individual disease that we’re finding or the way that this virus is impacting individuals is very unique and different,” she said.

Broyhill says the symptoms of long COVID-19 can include vertigo, fatigue or shortness of breath, and sometimes the warning signs can be simple.

“If it’s really impacting your ability to function in your everyday life, walking to the mailbox, getting to work,” she said.

The rehabilitation continues for Cotham as she slowly returns to her old self. Since going public with her long COVID-19 battle, she says she has received an incredible outpouring of support.

“I’m grateful for the kindness of others and the support, and the support of my family and my children’s schools have been just amazing,” she says. “It’s hard for me to ask for help. I’m not very good at that and that’s something that I had to do. I’m proud of the 600 comments I got on Facebook are from hardcore Republicans and staunch woke liberals and people all in the middle. No one’s fighting with each other and no one’s arguing and just being human beings is really important and we can, we need more of that.”

Cotham says she wants people to know if they are still dealing with the effects of COVID-19 long after their positive test, they are not alone.

“If you start developing something that’s a bit out of the ordinary or something that persist, just go get it checked out and to advocate for yourself,” she said.

(WATCH BELOW: Caldwell County 14-year-old battling COVID-19 flown to Asheville hospital)

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