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Douglas County News | National News | Statewide News | 08/03/21

Nebraska High School Athlete Struggles with Post-COVID Syndrome

Francis Gardler, Lincoln Journal Star

Marli Stones isn’t sure when she got COVID-19.

She thinks it was around Thanksgiving, when she thought she had a mild cold but also lost her sense of taste and smell. But because her symptoms were so mild, she didn’t get tested.

“It wasn’t really bad at all when I first got it,” Stones said.

Marli Stones receives her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

But weeks later, long after she had gotten over her “mild” illness, the 16-year-old started having more serious problems.

Stones, who’s a point guard on the basketball team at Crete High School roughly 30 minutes southwest of Lincoln, started struggling mightily with fatigue during games in January.

“I’d go up and down the court once and I’d have to take a breath,” she said. “My heart was racing.”

Her parents, Martin and Linda Stones, said that’s the first time they noticed anything wrong with their daughter.

“We were sitting in the stands and we’d look at each other and say, ‘What’s wrong with Marli?’” Martin Stones said. “I never, ever, thought of it being related to COVID.”

Marli Stones saw her primary doctor, who gave her an inhaler, but it didn’t really help much.

After a number of additional visits to her primary doctor, a pulmonologist and finally a cardiologist, Marli was diagnosed with post-COVID syndrome, what people often call “long COVID.”

It’s essentially a blanket term for a range of symptoms some COVID-19 patients experience long after their initial bout with the disease. They can include fatigue, cognitive issues and heart palpitations.

In Stone’s case, her heart would start racing with any bit of physical activity, even just standing up.

“You essentially feel like you’re exerting yourself maximally when you’re doing very minimal things,” said Dr. Mathue Baker, the Bryan Heart cardiologist who treated Marli.

The worry in her case was that she might have developed myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart that Baker said shows up in about 3% of young, healthy COVID-19 patients. It can cause scarring and permanent heart damage.

Linda Stones said it was “really scary” when Baker told them Marli could have heart damage severe enough that she would have to quit playing sports.

Fortunately, an MRI of her heart showed that wasn’t the case, and Baker prescribed a beta blocker, a drug used to reduce heart rate and lower blood pressure.

Stones said the medicine has helped her tremendously, and she’s back to her old self physically. Unfortunately, she tore an anterior cruciate ligament in one of her knees playing in a summer basketball league and now will be sidelined until at least January.

But she’s happy to have her COVID-related issues mostly behind her.

Now the junior-to-be and her parents are getting the word out about how important it is for young people to take the disease seriously and to get vaccinated.

Marli’s mom is a nurse and has seen how COVID-19 has affected people and their families.

“We feel fairly strongly that we wanted to send a message that you need to get young people vaccinated,” Linda Stones said.

Even though she had COVID-19, Marli has gotten the vaccine.

“I think it’s worth it,” she said, noting that if the vaccine had been available last year, “I wouldn’t have had to go through this.”