Before March 2020, Marianna Slivnitskaya was a fit and healthy mother of teenage twins with a job in London and a passion for running.
She ran regularly with her friends from Transition Coaching, exercised six days a week and was preparing to take part in her sixth half marathon.
Now, she’s lucky if she can walk between bridges on Bedford’s embankment without needing to sit down.
She’s even out of breath when she answers the phone for our interview.
She’s 42-years-old and has no underlying health conditions. She’d visited the doctor so infrequently that she had to Google to find out who her GP was.
“I don’t remember what it feels like to be fit,” she told the Bedford Independent. “It’s been so long.”
Marianna was at an international conference in London in March 2020 when she caught what she thought was a mild cold.
“I felt nearly normal and my only issue was a loss of smell, which was not considered to be a COVID-19 (coronavirus) symptom back then,” she said.
“I recovered fairly quickly and didn’t have to isolate according to the guidance at the time.
“I was back to my beloved running quickly, while my partner, who developed similar symptoms, took to her bed for a week, had severe body aches, a loss of smell and taste, and no energy.”
Thinking that because she’d recovered quickly she could resume her exercise routine, Marianna began running again as soon as her energy levels returned.
She said: “We knew very little about COVID effects at the time and I couldn’t see that I was doing anything harmful.
“I wish somebody would have told me to rest for a few weeks, things may have been very different for me now.”
A few months later Marianna began to notice that she was becoming a little breathless while running but she ignored it.
“Being a busy, active mum means that we are used to pushing through not feeling 100%,” she said.
But it didn’t go away and one day in June she woke up with sharp chest pain, breathlessness and she could barely walk.
She was referred to Bedford Hospital acute admissions unit, where cardiac tests did not show any abnormalities.
“Long Covid was never mentioned and no suggestion of how to diagnose or manage the symptoms of it had been made,” said Marianna. “It was too soon; Covid was still a mystery.
“After that scary episode, it felt like I entered periods of relapse and remission, like living with a chronic illness.
“The summer heat was draining, and when I did find the energy to run, it would wipe me out for days afterwards.”
Ten months on, and Marianna says it’s hard to notice any improvement in her health. “If anything, things got progressively worse.
“My exercise tolerance reduced dramatically, and even a short walk would wipe me out, and it’s not unusual for me to need a nap in the middle of the day, something unheard of a year ago.”
And it’s not just her physical health that has suffered.
“I cannot underestimate the negative impact Long Covid has had on my mental health. Around Christmas I went for a walk along the Embankment. I saw so many people out running and exercising, while I struggled for breath and sat on a bench.
“At that moment I thought about calling the Samaritans.”
According to the COVID-19 Symptoms Study, one in 20 people is likely to suffer from long COVID, with one in 50 being affected for more than three months.
Professor Tim Spector, COVID Symptom Study lead and Professor of Genetic Epidemiology from King’s College London said: “COVID-19 is a mild illness for many, but for over one in 50 people symptoms can persist for longer than 12 weeks.
“So it’s important that, as well as worrying about excess deaths, we also need to consider those who will be affected by long COVID if we don’t get the pandemic under control soon.
“Having such large numbers of people affected means specialist services need to be set up urgently with the full financial help for hospitals and GPs.”
Marianna says that although her GP was understanding, they were unable to offer anything constructive. She’s turned to internet forums, where other sufferers are also looking for answers.
“I”ve been following long COVID forums and between us, we’re groping for answers among the Long Covid communities.
“But little seems to be known about the long-term prognosis.”
To put her mind at rest, Marianna paid for a private cardiology review, and says: “Luckily the cardiologist has recommended a referral into his NHS practice, and hopes to offer me some reassurance and a plan for a slow build up recovery.
“It’s not an exact science, but at least somebody is taking me seriously.”
The nearest long COVID clinic is in Milton Keynes and she’ll need a GP referral.
“I would say what we are dealing with is unprecedented in modern times,” she said.
“Whilst we wait for this vaccine to make an impact, I would urge everyone to follow the guidance, socially distance, protect yourself and others.”
Marianna has shared her story to help others understand the devastating effects of long COVID.
“If you contract COVID, regardless of how fit and healthy you consider yourself to be, please allow yourself enough time to rest and recover, mentally and physically, because you may never recover your baseline of health if you rush back.
“I can only dream that one Saturday I will get my body back and will be able to go for a run with my running mates, or a nice long walk with my children not experiencing any pain and not worrying about my breathing.”