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One morning in May, as I scanned my inbox, I spotted an email with the subject line “16 year old with Long Covid.” Intrigued, I opened the message. It was from Lilly Downs, and she wanted to tell her story and raise awareness about the mysterious condition that can follow a coronavirus infection and how it can impact teens.

I had wanted to write a story profiling someone with what’s come to be known as long COVID for months. The state was also seeing more COVID-19 infections among teenagers, so the timing seemed right. We haven’t heard much about long COVID in kids. so we at The Denver Post wanted to explore what this is like for children and teens. I jumped on the story, scheduling an initial Zoom interview with Lilly and her family.

Once we knew the family was on board, photographer Hyoung Chang and I spent time with them over a period of four months. Lilly had not yet been vaccinated against the coronavirus and her parents were wary of her getting sick again/ (She already had contracted COVID-19 twice, after all!.) So our first meeting was outside with everyone wearing masks. We started spending time indoors with them (still with masks on) once Lilly was vaccinated later in the summer. We went with Lilly to her soccer practices and doctor’s appointments. We spent time with the family at home, and when Lilly was hospitalized in August, we visited her there, too.

Since part of the story required going back in time to Lilly’s hospital stay in November and December, I reviewed her medical records from that time. The records, which were provided by the family, told of how doctors tried to treat Lilly and the lesions that appeared on her skin last fall. Lilly’s mother, Elisa Downs, also kept notes of their time in the hospital and helped inform the reporting. I also spoke to Lilly’s doctors and other physicians treating long COVID in pediatric patients and read studies on the topic.

I hope you’ll take some time to read this story about Lilly and see Hyoung’s photographs of this teen for whom a COVID-19 infection has become a nearly year-long medical ordeal.

— Jessica Seaman, Denver Post reporter

“She is such a puzzle”: Colorado teen’s months-long ordeal spotlights mysteries of long COVID

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