SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Over the past two years, the medical community has learned a lot about COVID-19. But one side effect with lingering questions is called ‘Long COVID’. While many people who contract the virus make full recoveries, others experience symptoms long after they receive that negative test again.

Michelle Carlson of Yankton used to love hiking, being out in nature and walking her dogs. Then she contracted COVID-19 and her life changed forever.

“I exercised an hour a day when I got sick, I didn’t have preexisting conditions,” Carlson said. “I had a little weight to lose yet, but I was in the best shape of my life when I caught this.”

Carlson is one of an estimated 23 million people in the U.S dealing with “Long COVID” symptoms. She only had a mild case of the virus in March of 2020 but now her nervous system doesn’t function properly.

“Forgetting to breathe,” Carlson said. “You know, the autonomic nervous system, the things that you don’t think about like my body temperature regulating. And I’ll often get dizzy and that’s what will, you know, bring me back to ‘oh, remember to breathe.’ You know, things you’re not supposed to have to think about.”

Extreme sensitivity to light and noise even caused Carlson to leave her job so she could find one that allows her to work from home.

“It’s a fight or flight response. So it’s every noise, every light, everything is a distraction and I’m just always on alert,” Carlson said.

“Long COVID” has been a burden on Carlson’s finances as well, spending $800 each month just for medication to help her function.

“You know, when you think about going on disability at work and you’re dropping to sixty percent of your income,” Carlson said. “I couldn’t mow the lawn, I couldn’t shovel, I can’t do basic painting, I can’t do basic anything, any house cleaning. Just think of trying to make it on 60 percent plus all of the things that you cannot do plus all of the medical expenses.”

As the South Dakota representative for the COVID-19 Longhauler Advocacy Project, Carlson just wants to raise awareness.

“Just remember that we might not look sick enough but that isn’t telling the whole story,” Carlson said.

Faces of COVID19

Earlier this month, President Biden issued a Presidential Memorandum to direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to work with the federal government and create an action plan for ‘Long COVID’.