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Dear Scientist: I am surviving long COVID, but my old life is gone. How can we help others who are going through this?

Tammy Wilshire has lived with long COVID for four years. Her life now revolves around managing her health challenges — and helping others in a similar situation.

In March of 2020, Tammy Wilshire was sick with what she thought was a mild case of COVID-19. But over the following months, new symptoms kept mysteriously appearing. Tammy’s heart rate and blood pressure skyrocketed inexplicably. Her hair started to fall out. She developed tremors. She became unable to do her usual daily tasks, like helping care for the family dogs, chickens, and ducks. Eventually, she was unable to get out of bed. 

“I knew by the time that I really got completely incapacitated that there was definitely something wrong,” she says, “but nobody could help me explain what was going on.”

After almost two years of doctor’s appointments — some virtual in her rural Pennsylvania home, others two hours away in Pittsburgh — Tammy was diagnosed with long COVID. Also known as post-COVID conditions, long-haul COVID, or post-acute COVID-19, long COVID encompasses a wide range of ongoing health issues that can occur after being infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

Woman wearing purple jacket crouching down to feed four chickens.
Tammy Wilshire feeds her chickens.

More than one in five adults who ever had COVID-19 reported symptoms consistent with long COVID, according to a study in the National Library of Medicine. The severity of symptoms varies, and some recover after weeks or months, while others, like Tammy, continue to face symptoms years after their initial infection.

“This has been a long and difficult journey. Imagine losing four years of your life to this,” she says. “I’m never going to be the same person I was in February of 2020.” But Tammy persevered with the support of her faith, family, friends, and a newfound passion: Trying to make sure no one else has to go through the experience of long COVID alone.

“I’m never going to be the same person I was in February of 2020.”

Tammy Wilshire

“I realized that this new person, though I’m [not the same as before], actually has a lot to offer,” she says.

As her energy allows, Tammy shares her story to spread awareness and encourages others with long COVID to do the same.


“You’re not crazy, you’re not making this up,” she says to anyone struggling with long COVID. “Know that there are people out there like [me] and others that are working to help us — to help further our cause, to get the research to work towards a cure, to offer support.”

Unraveling the mystery of long COVID

One of those people is Jennifer Hammond, Ph.D., head of antiviral development at Pfizer. Jennifer leads Pfizer’s development program for the treatment of COVID-19, and she is now working to further scientific understanding of long COVID, for which there is currently no FDA-approved treatment.

The first step towards potential solutions is understanding long COVID and the mechanisms of the disease. 

“You need to know what is causing the problem so that you can identify how to best approach it,” Jennifer explains. “Is it the virus? That might lead you down one road to identifying an appropriate solution. Is it the immune response to the infection? That might lead you down a completely different road.” 

“You need to know what is causing the problem so that you can identify how to best approach it.”

Jennifer Hammond

Long COVID is particularly challenging to study — and even define — given the wide range of symptoms patients present. Over 200 symptoms of long COVID have been reported, affecting many parts of the body, according to the World Health Organization.

Jennifer and her team are developing ways to study the disease, like identifying patterns in patient data and partnering with organizations, academic medical centers, and long COVID clinics to investigate potential treatments.


“As an organization, Pfizer is looking to collaborate as much as we can with these external institutions,” she says. “It’s also important for patients to be aware that there are these long COVID clinics, that there are a number of different opportunities for them to get involved in some of these initiatives to contribute to the science but also, hopefully, ultimately benefit from some of the science that emerges from these initiatives.”

Two woman and a man stand arm and arm in front of a house, posing for a picture.
Tammy Wilshire and her family pose for a photo.

While scientists are still in the learning stages, at least one thing is clear: “We shouldn’t dismiss the way patients feel, the way patients are reporting any impairment to their ability to function,” Jennifer says. “The evidence does suggest that there really is something happening.”

This is further reinforced when patients like Tammy share their stories. 

“There’s been a sense of urgency from day one with the COVID-19 pandemic, but encounters with patients who are dealing with long COVID, it certainly reinforces that sense of urgency to try to find a solution,” Jennifer says.

Conversations and continuing COVID-19 research 

Tammy budgeted her energy carefully to be able to meet Jennifer at Pfizer’s Collegeville, Pa., office and read a letter she wrote detailing her experience with long COVID. 

“What are scientists doing to address this mass disabling event?” Tammy asks at the end of her letter, “to help not only those of us who are the first wavers of 2020 but also for those who will be joining our ranks through repeat infections?” 

Jennifer shares Pfizer’s multi-pronged approach to researching long COVID and collaborating with organizations to understand the disease as the first step toward finding solutions. 

“I’m really excited to hear that you’re looking to the long COVID community for input in this because it’s a critical piece of the information,” Tammy notes. “I think the information that our community has to offer is really valuable.”

“Is there anything in particular that you would like me to know or that you would like me to bring back to my team about your experience with long COVID?” Jennifer asks. 

“If there’s one thing that I would like to communicate, I think it would be that we are alive, we survived the infection, but we’re not living,” Tammy tells her. “We are so hopeful that somebody will come along and help us get back to a normal life … We’re going to hold out hope, and we’re going to keep fighting, and we’re going to keep doing this until that day comes.”

“We are alive, we survived the infection, but we’re not living.”

Tammy Wilshire

Jennifer agrees. “No matter all of the advances that have been made in terms of vaccines and therapeutics and ways to treat COVID, we’re not done,” she says. “We have a lot of work still to do.”


This content was produced by Boston Globe Media's Studio/B in collaboration with the advertiser. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its production or display.