This is the second of a two-part interview with Dr. Talya Fleming, medical director at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute at Hackensack Meridian Health, in Edison, New Jersey.

 Dr. Talya Fleming also specializes in the treatment of Long COVID-19. She has had patients ranging from the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. She also treats patients that have contracted the virus recently and they’re experiencing long COVID symptoms.

Symptoms include fatigue, cognitive deficit, and decreased mental awareness. “An inability to multitask, becoming distracted, and feeling tired shortly after you’ve started an activity are common symptoms of Long COVID.,” she said. Dr. Fleming uses techniques similar to neurorehabilitation or stroke rehabilitation, applying those same rehab principles when assisting patients with Long COVID. She said, “If you’ve had a mild COVID infection, you can still have Long COVID.” 

However, this notion was initially overlooked by some medical professionals–due partly to the uncertainty and progression of COVID and its long-term effects. “We thought that patients who were in the ICU or very sick at home would have some of these long-term consequences,” Fleming said. “But I had many patients who had an initial COVID infection and were sick for maybe a week, ten days, felt better, and then a couple of weeks later they noticed that some of these symptoms reoccurred.”. 

According to Dr. Fleming, recovery from COVID is very individualistic and specialized. In her rehab program, physicians were able to help some people fully regain their function and discharge them. Conversely, she and her team are still studying and modifying treatment plans for patients with more complex virus levels. For example, researching how COVID affects organ systems and discerning what rehabilitative solutions can help patients recover is ongoing.

In an unusual twist, Fleming said many people are surprised when she tells them they can experience hair loss after enduring stress on their bodies, stating that this phenomenon is not specific to COVID-19 but is very common when contracting the virus. “Whenever you have stress on the body, it can affect your hair growth, and the hair that we see presented on our head is a combination of not only generating new hair cells that are growing but also maintaining hair cells,” she says. Fleming added, “What was surprising about COVID is that many people associated COVID with a lung disorder, so they were surprised to find that ‘well how does this relate to my hair?'” She said see hearing changes after COVID, is also common. It’s more about the body’s response to an intense stressor,” she said. 

Lastly, Fleming is committed to providing physical medicine, rehabilitation, psychological, nutritional, and educational support. Prioritizing quality healthcare in an interactive and comfortable setting is a must for her. “I love seeing patients gain a new trust within the healthcare system based on our relationship. I’m a mom [and] I’m a problem-solver, so often what I do in the exam room is not necessarily what they teach in Chapter 14 in the neurology book in medical school, but I really try to bridge the gap,” she says. “I’m the expert in the medical knowledge and the patient’s an expert in their body, so I see it as a partnership to help every person have the best life, quality of life, and duration of life that they can.” To learn more about Dr. Fleming and the JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute, please check out the links below:

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