Local artist gives long Covid patients hope

Mount Baldy artist Elizabeth Preston pictured last week at her Claremont business, Elizabeth’s Art Studio. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

Every Thursday morning, Mount Baldy artist Elizabeth Preston sets herself up at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center for a unique therapy.

Preston, an instructor at the Creative Journal Expressive Arts Institute, oversees the hospital’s long Covid recovery program, Rehabilitation via Inspiration, a course that helps patients navigate the emotional aspects of COVID-19.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, post-Covid symptoms can affect anyone infected with the coronavirus, sometimes days, weeks or months later. The condition carries 21 known symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue, labored breathing, and worsening symptoms after physical or mental exertion. Preston said it’s “not an easy, definable condition.”

“We’re unique in that we provide support for them emotionally because they, in essence, are pioneers,” she said. “There’s no test for post-Covid. There’s no known treatment for post-Covid. So consequently, what we do is give them an opportunity to talk with each other, to share information of what’s working and what isn’t working, and then also we introduce them to the bimodal, two-handed journaling approach, which then gives them an opportunity to reduce stress.”

Mount Baldy artist Elizabeth Preston pictured last week at her Claremont business, Elizabeth’s Art Studio. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

While the hospital addresses post-Covid as a pulmonary condition with separate physical therapies, the course teaches long haulers various breathing techniques, creative journaling, and stress reducing exercises. Preston noted some attendees have returned to the workforce.

The hybrid course, held in-person in the physical therapy department at the Robert and Beverly Lewis Outpatient Pavilion and via Zoom, brings long haulers from as far away as Oklahoma and Malaysia into one space. Preston said about 15 to 20 people show up each week. The course has served about 100 patients over its first year.

In 2021, Preston spoke with PVHMC’s associate director about getting a recovery group started for post-Covid patients. On February 10, 2022, the hybrid group met for the first time.

This is not the first creative journaling class and recovery group Preston has taught at the hospital. She’s overseen groups for the past 17 years at its Robert and Beverly Lewis Family Cancer Care Center and Stead Heart and Vascular Center, but said the post-Covid group is different.

“With post-Covid, they’re going into unknown territory,” she said. “I worked cancer support for 20 years, [hospitals] have a path that says ‘Okay, you’re probably going to need radiation, surgery, and so forth.’ Whereas with post-Covid, there’s no set path, and they feel very isolated.”

Kimberly Crouch-Phillips, a registered nurse and former hospital case manager, is a recurring presence at meetings.

She tested positive for Covid in October 2021 and was in the intensive care unit days later. Although discharged about a month later, Crouch-Phillips developed post-Covid symptoms such as brain fog and fatigue. Doctors recommended she attend outpatient pulmonary and cardiac rehabilitation and physical therapy services at PVHMC, which she did for three months. She was then referred to Preston’s long Covid group.

She’s has been attending the recovery group for the better part of a year and said she’s seen results. Last November after months of recovery, she saw Elton John perform his final concert at Dodger Stadium. This summer, Crouch-Phillips will go on her first vacation since her diagnosis.

Like many others, it’s unclear when her battle with long Covid will cease — it could be days, weeks, months, or years before symptoms subside. Through the long haul though, Crouch-Phillips has developed a new appreciation for the little things in life.

“I just appreciate so much more now that I’ve been through this and I’m living life again like I should be and experiencing all these good things that are out there,” Crouch-Phillips said. “It’s absolutely amazing what little things are out there that people don’t even realize that are just awesome.”

Although open to the public, PVHMC’s program is exclusively for patients diagnosed with long Covid. Attendees are required to present a referral from a physician and participate in a screening evaluation at the PVHMC Rehabilitation Services Department. To learn more or schedule a screening, call (909) 865-9810.

Preston hopes to keep the course going for another year — maybe more. For those looking to join or wanting more information, visit pvhmc.org.


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