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Long Covid programme up for national award after transforming lives

A photo of Live Well Centre employees Jordan Thompson and Jack Dent

A Middlesbrough man who found himself unable to complete a sentence without becoming breathless now feels “a million times better” after enrolling on a programme supporting people with Long Covid.

Dad-of-two Mark, from Acklam, contracted Covid in July 2021 and saw his health deteriorate after returning to work later that month.

The 60-year-old is now making huge progress after committing to RE:Start, the course designed by Middlesbrough Council to help those struggling with the after effects of Covid.

RE:Start was last week nominated in the Transforming Lives category of the 2022 MJ Awards.

It has helped more than 100 people since launching early last year.

Participants like Mark have had access to tailored support from public health professionals as well as a group support network made up of others with similar experiences of the virus.

Civil servant Mark said: “The actual having Covid wasn’t too bad for me.

“It was after that that my health degenerated. I went back to work but was clearly not right. My boss pulled me to one side and said you aren’t right. I didn’t feel as if I was there. I felt totally run down.”

After an initial two-week absence from work Mark actually started to feel worse.

“I was more fatigued. I was more breathless. Every time I tried to speak for a sentence I would cough and have to stop what I was doing, which usually wasn’t much at all.

“I came close to dialing 999 a few times through breathlessness but never actually got to that stage.”

Mark was referred to RE:Start by his GP and was soon attending group sessions twice a week. Mark found they gave him a focus and he particularly benefited from the support of others on the group.

“I had good support from my immediate family, but speaking to other people about what I was experiencing definitely helped.”

Much of the practical support Mark has had has been in the gym and he is hugely grateful for the support of the Live Well Centre team.

“The exercises are tailored for you to help open up your chest and aid your breathing,” he said.

“I don’t think I would be in the health I am now if I hadn’t have joined the group. Last week I enjoyed a walk on the beach at Saltburn and was able to manage the steps all the way back to the top where we parked. It’s given me my stamina back!”

Nicola from Skelton, East Cleveland, credits the programme and her family with helping her navigate a “scary place to be”.

The 52-year-old senior manager described how her life as she knew it almost “stopped overnight” after suffering with breathing difficulties, heart palpitations, brain fog, fatigue and skin problems after testing positive for Covid in November 2020.

Nicola had to be stabilized at home by paramedics on one occasion and was admitted to hospital three times.

Previously fit and healthy, she had cycled 50 miles from home to Blakey Ridge and back on the weekend before she tested positive. Just weeks later Nicola found she was unable to walk to the end of the road without breathing difficulties. 

“I had great support from my family, who particularly saw and shared the difficulties when going through cycles of getting better, plateauing and then going back over,” she said.

Nicola enrolled on RE:Start after seeing the programme advertised online.

“I can’t praise it enough,” she said.

“The team of Jordan, Dan and their colleagues have been second to none.

“They were honest and open from the start that they wouldn’t have all the answers but we would work through things together.

“It’s not just the exercise programme, it’s meeting other people and hearing about similar symptoms and reassuring yourself that you’re not on your own. It’s helped so much. I am lucky that my employer has been extremely supportive and my return to work has been supported by the programme.”

Both Mark and Nicola praised the team of Jack Dent, Jordan Thompson and Dan Stubbings from the Live Well Centre.

RE:Start is a free programme designed by Public Health South Tees.

It’s intended for those suffering from Long Covid symptoms, or for people at an increased risk of contracting Covid who may be expected to have a worse recovery from the disease – such as those with a BMI over 40, diabetes, coronary heart disease, or limited mobility.

South Tees Director of Public Health Mark Adams was thrilled to hear how much progress people like Mark, Nicola and so many others are making.

He said: “The stories of Mark and Nicola are brilliant. We’re learning more and more about the issues caused by Long Covid but it’s really reassuring that there is practical help out there that can make a difference.

“I’m also delighted that RE:Start has been nominated for the MJ Award – it is definitely a programme that is helping to transform lives and everyone involved in designing and delivering it deserves huge credit.”

For more information visit the Live Well Centre website, email livewellcentre@middlesbrough.gov.uk, visit the centre inside Dundas House, or call 01642 727580 to speak to a member of the Restart team.