‘No one was talking about it’: Doctor’s concerns over COVID’s long-term impact on lungs

BOSTON — Trauma Surgeon Dr. Brittany Bankhead-Kendall felt compelled to send out a tweet about what she was seeing in some of her patients:

“I don’t know who needs to hear this. But post-Covid lungs look worse than any type of terrible smoker’s lungs we’ve ever seen…” the tweet began. She also posted a photos x-ray photos of healthy lungs, a smoker’s lungs, and post-Covid lungs.

The tweet quickly spread across the country.

In an interview with Boston 25 News, the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center doctor said what really surprised her, was that she’s seen those concerning X-rays from some asymptomatic patients. Some of those patients came into the E.R. for an accident or other unrelated injury.

Dr. Bankhead-Kendall said other doctors said they were seeing the same thing, but that the public hasn’t heard much about it.

“We’re starting to see now that people who have had Covid in the past and may not have ever had symptoms before, absolutely have a completely abnormal chest X-ray,” Bankhead-Kendall said. “They’re young, and they’re healthy and no symptoms at all. But it’s, it’s showing up on their X-rays.”

Dr. Bankhead-Kendall worked at Mass General Hospital at the start of the pandemic before moving to Texas - and says she and her colleagues are seeing this across the country, not in every patient, but in enough to be concerned.

She described what those X-rays show: “In a Covid lung, even after the fact, you can see a lot of this dense white material, which is indicative of old scarring, maybe new scarring, as well as congestion,” Bankhead-Kendall said.

“Once scar tissue starts to build up on the lungs, it really doesn’t easily reverse if ever reverse. So that definitely concerns me, we don’t have any, you know, long term evidence about that in Covid, specifically, but for everything we else we have that’s like that, it really doesn’t get a lot better,” she added.

Bankhead-Kendall says doctors have seen the condition evolve in some patients who were Covid positive in the past, with collapsed lungs, and dangerous clots.

“It’s terrible. And it’s heartbreaking,” she said, detailing what she’s seen in some patients. She said they describe, “‘Struggling to breathe… can’t climb up a flight of stairs… used to run a marathon… now I can’t.’ Really healthy people who are really, really struggling.”

Dr. Bankhead-Kendall says there is no treatment at this point since researchers have been focused on decreasing Covid mortality. She says there’s no reason to rush out for a chest X-ray right now. She does recommend you talk to your primary care doctor, and let them know if you ever had a positive Covid test. That way, she said, they can keep track of any changes to your health down the road that could be linked to the virus, as doctors learn more about the potential long-term impacts.

Still, she wants the message out there, so people understand that getting even a mild case of Covid can carry consequences.

“The second you’re offered the vaccine, you should absolutely take it. My only hope in sharing this was that if it helped one person to mask up one more time, or if it helps one less person to get sick from it, then then it’s worth it.”


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