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Support group helps COVID-19 survivors deal with aftereffects

On Thursday, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Thursday announced a free virtual support group available for the almost 50,000 COVID-19 survivors in Nassau.  Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran wants residents to know there is help out there for COVID-19 survivors who are still experiencing the aftereffects of the disease or whose battle with it has left them anxious and depressed.

"We are fortunate to have thousands of residents who have conquered the disease and survived. But even for those the battle is still not over," Curran said Thursday, as she highlighted a virtual support group for COVID-19 survivors run by Glen Cove-based Emerge Nursing & Rehabilitation Center and its affiliates that has been operating for several months.

"No matter what you’re feeling, post-diagnosis, we want to make sure everyone knows you’re not alone and that there is support," Curran said during a news conference at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola.

Lisa Penziner, a registered nurse who is director of special projects at Emerge, said the twice-monthly support group meetings held over Zoom are available free of charge to anyone, no matter where they live. She said members have come from Long Island as well as New York City and beyond.

"This COVID virus has been unprecedented," Penziner said, "and the results that we’re seeing are nothing we were expecting. Many people at the beginning said, ‘You got over COVID. You survived and now you go on with your life. You have antibodies and that’s it.’ What I was finding was people, back in March and April who had the disease, six months later, after they were finished, were starting now to have [additional] symptoms. They were having brain fog. They were having breathing issues. Heart issues. And more importantly, also there was a lot of depression, anxiety, panic attacks. So a lot of them were not leaving their houses. They felt alone."

Penziner said that led to the formation of the support group in June. The Zoom support sessions includes Penziner along with a psychologist and other staff. "I don’t think a lot of people out there realize what a lot of people are going through."

Penziner said the support groups seek to help members move forward with their lives. Penziner encouraged COVID survivors to reach out, not only to her group, but to other local crisis centers, saying some people are in "very dark places. And this shouldn’t be." For anyone wishing to join the Emerge support group, call Penziner at 516-457-5585 to receive the Zoom invitation, or email her at lisa.penziner@paragonmanagementsnf.com.

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Curran said other resources can be accessed on the Nassau CARES app.

Over a Zoom call transmitted to reporters gathered in the Executive Office Building, two women spoke about their experiences with COVID and the help they received from the support group.

Amy Mahnken of Suffolk County said when she was first diagnosed in March, "It felt like I had a very small cold." Then, she said, "I started to get strange symptoms, like tingling in my cheeks and then a month or two later I started getting tingling in my toes. My calf felt like it was on fire and I still have it until this day, months later."

Ada Vazquez of Brooklyn said she got sick with COVID in early March.

"I had high fevers, the shortness of breath. The cough. I had the rash. It was horrible. I knew it was not a regular cold," Vazquez said. " ... It attacks your body and you have no idea how to control it. ... I’m still suffering from brain fog."

She said she had anxiety about going out, especially when she encountered people not wearing a face mask.

"From early March to June I had this fear of not knowing what was going on with my body. I thank Lisa. If it wasn’t for her support group I wouldn’t know what I would do with myself," Vazquez said. " … Everybody in the group is very helpful. … At first I thought I was alone. But we’re not alone."

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