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Frazee teacher battles long-haul COVID-19 impacts for a year

A Frazee, Minnesota school teacher would give anything to be back in her elementary classroom, but long-haul COVID has prevented that. Now there are special post-COVID clinics to help get patients back to living life again.

Brad Hintermeyer, Sanford pulmonary rehab manager, works with Shawna Grierson-Friesen of Frazee as part of her long-hauler post covid treatment program.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY News
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FARGO — There are days Shawna Grierson-Friesen from Frazee, Minnesota, even amazes herself. On Thursday, Nov. 17, she was impressing her pulmonary rehabilitation team at Sanford Health, where she comes twice a week, as part of a post-covid rehab program.

"Warm up the legs a little, instead of starting at 10," said Sanford pulmonary rehabilitation manager Brad Hintermeyer.

It was one year ago that Grierson-Friesen, 51, tested positive for COVID-19, and her condition deteriorated quickly.

"It hit me fast and hard," Grierson-Friesen said. "When they ran tests, they found double-lung pneumonia (and) they found sepsis," she added.

The elementary school teacher wasn't sure she would survive.


"The doctor wanted to intubate me. The doctor had said, 'you have about a 50/50 chance or less,'" Grierson-Friesen said.

Her plans to return back to the classroom faded, even weeks after COVID, she just wasn't getting better.

More from WDAY's Kevin Wallevand
It was exactly 25 years ago that WDAY News brought the story of Ottertail dairy farmer Pete Thalmann patiently waiting for a new heart at Mayo Clinic. He waited six months there, his heart barely functioning. Time was running out until Thanksgiving in 1997, and a nearby family's unselfish gift of life.

"I started to lose my memory," she said.

The simplest things became impossible.

"I struggled with reading left to right, I couldn't do math after a while, I couldn't write my name. I lost all my motor skills, (I was) having to have oxygen 24-7, I had to learn how to read," she said.

Recently, she has been making the trip to Fargo, where her pulmonary rehab team is trying to help her get back to some kind of normalcy. But even a year after COVID, exercise takes a toll.

"The prolonged nature and the fact that (she is) female, (more females battle long-haul issues,) it's probably going to be anywhere between, I would say, two to three years or more before she can probably get back to some - I wouldn't say completely - back to baseline," said Dr. Venkatkiran Kanchustambham, a pulmonologist working at Sanford.

But still there is progress, and Shawna is holding on to that, especially with the holidays and family coming home.


"I have two (grandchildren) now. One just turned two, one is turning one. And there's another one the way in December and another one in April, so I gotta to be there for them. I have to get better," Grierson-Friesen said.

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

Contact Email: kwallevand@wday.com
Phone Number: (701) 241-5317
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