When Leen Braam of Ashburton contracted Covid-19 almost two years ago, for three days he was bedridden with fever, extreme headaches and coughing.
Now the 67-year-old is looking back on that time as when he was unknowingly embarking on a battle with something he still suffers from today – Long Covid.
Leen contracted the coronavirus the same time as wife Lianne, in April, 2022 – the year the virus started to creep into every corner of the population after the country’s borders opened.
But while Lianne’s experience of the illness was like suffering a minor cold, Leen’s was more like a severe flu. Both were fully vaccinated.
After the three days, Leen started to feel better.
‘‘I thought that was it, it’s resolved, it’s fine,’’ he said.
His only ongoing symptom until later that year was tiredness, which he experienced on and off.
In November, he and Lianne travelled to the Netherlands for a six-week trip to see family.
It was then Leen’s health
took a turn, when he all of a sudden had the troubling experience of not being able to speak properly.
This happened as he sat around a table with family.
He found himself mumbling instead of speaking, with ‘‘the communication between brain and mouth’’ not working.
‘‘I couldn’t speak Dutch, I couldn’t speak English, or a mix of them,’’ he said.
Lianne said she looked at him and thought ‘‘What’s going on?’’
The couple put it down to tiredness, but while Leen found his words again, his speech never quite returned to normal.
Leen was not sure why; the thought of having Long Covid never entered his mind.
Coincidentally, his younger brother in the Netherlands had been suffering from Long Covid during their visit.
But even seeing this, Leen never thought at the time it was something he was also beginning to suffer from.
In the following months, Leen lost 7kg as he began to also suffer from a loss of appetite.
This began on their way back from the Netherlands on a stopover in Singapore.
‘‘I just didn’t want to eat, it didn’t matter what it was,’’ Leen said.
He also began to suffer headaches, a chronic sore throat and incidents of being short of breath.
As a keen mountain biker, Leen met with his cousins to try out some tracks in Arrowtown upon his return from the Netherlands.
But after half an hour, he became so short of breath he couldn’t stand.
In December 2022, he went to the doctor, who tested him for symptoms of a stroke, then diagnosed him with Long Covid.
‘‘Things started making sense,’’ Leen said.
In June last year he experienced another episode of being short of breath, this time with chest pain and tightness, which happened when he was at home.
He was taken by ambulance to Ashburton Hospital, where tests showed he had not had a heart attack, as was suspected.
Once again, his symptoms were put down to Long Covid.
Leen is considering attending a speech therapist, to help with that connection between his brain and mouth.
While he can construct sentences and speak normally, he gets frustrated at not being able to find the right words at the right time.
‘‘I know what I want to say, but it doesn’t come out.’’
Leen is a semi-retired landscape gardener, and district councillor.
In the latter role he has to comprehend hefty plans and reports.
He said while he can still do this, his reading is slower than it used to be.
‘‘And I’m the councillor who doesn’t say much, I normally would say more,’’ he said about his participation in district council meetings. District councillor Leen Braam still has fatigue, ongoing ‘‘slight’’ headaches, and a sore throat.
Some days are worse than others.
He is aiming for a full recovery, but he said his doctor could not say when, or if, that would happen.
‘‘That’s what I’m going for,’’ he said.
‘‘I’m getting better, and I’m certainly working towards it, but it’s the frustration, it doesn’t happen overnight.’’
Meanwhile, the University of Auckland is conducting a research project on Long Covid in New Zealand.
It has established an online Long Covid Registry for people suffering the illness, aiming to give researchers a picture of its burden in the country.
Studies show about 10 to 20 per cent of people infected by Covid-19 may go on to develop Long Covid.
This means there may be 200,000 people impacted in New Zealand.
As New Zealand is this month in the midst of a fifth wave of Covid-19, spurred on by the new infectious Omicron subvariant JN.1, epidemiologist Michael Baker has urged people to avoid catching the virus again.
Getting recurrent Covid infections left “a scarring effect on some organs and the lining of your blood vessels”, and it was one of the theories about what caused Long Covid, he said.