COVID-19 'long-haulers' still fighting as pandemic recedes. Just ask WCPO alum Michael Flannery

'It's an invisible syndrome'
A man with curly gray hair wears a blue medical mask while strapped to a gurney in an ambulance. A paramedic with long dark hair pulled back, also wearing a light blue medical mask and a dark shirt stands behind him. Both are posing for the camera.
Posted at 8:21 AM, Jul 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-08 21:09:36-04

CINCINNATI — Michael Flannery is back on the megaphone, enthusiastically inspiring people to buy and sell at Goodwill locations as the non-profit’s spokesperson.

But for a period of time — exactly how long, he's not sure — he’ll be dealing with the challenges of fatigue, joint pain, general weakness, trouble breathing and brain fog in getting the job done.

Flannery is what we call a COVID-19 “long hauler.”

He was diagnosed with the virus on Feb. 17 and has since fought to survive the physical and emotional symptoms that come with having had a severe case.

Two days after going to Good Samaritan Hospital’s emergency room, Flannery was put on a ventilator before doctors induced a coma so that all his body had to do was fight.

“I remember I couldn’t breathe. I remember going to the ER,” said the comedian and former WCPO staffer. "I didn’t know that when I went on the ventilator, I had about a 30 percent chance to make it. That’s kinda scary,” he said.

Flannery gives a thumbs up in this undated selfie as he sits with oxygen assisting his breathing at his home after a month-long stay in the hospital.

Flannery was lucky — or more like “blessed,” he said. He believes one thing healed him: prayer.

"There were so many people that I haven’t met yet who were praying for me," Flannery said. "I got 'Thank You' notes I’m still not done returning...thank you notes that I have to write to people who sent cards…thousands of posts of people saying they were praying for me. I was unconscious. I couldn’t do anything."

Once awakened from his coma, Flannery said, he worried about his wife and children, who could not visit due to COVID rules. With the help of caring and devoted nurses, he said, he mustered the energy to send his kids "goofy" pictures and harnessed all the humor he could as a former comedian to keep them laughing during Zoom calls.

"The kids would call me every day and talk to me," Flannery said. "I feel bad for all that the kids and Stacy (his wife) went through. Can you imagine going a week and thinking your husband or dad was going to die? You know? I feel terrible about that," Flannery said.

Eighteen days at the hospital transitioned to eight more at the Ohio Living Llanfair rehab facility in College Hill.

"What people don’t seem to know about when I’m talking about COVID is how much longer it lasts after COVID," he said. "And that you have to learn how to walk again or that you have to learn how to brush your teeth and take a shower again, because when you get off the ventilator the arms and legs don’t work.

"I was only on for six days. There are people that have been on for five months.”

And then there’s the emotional recovery.

"There is survivor’s guilt…that I never thought I would ever experience," he said. "A lot of folks are having — I haven’t had many —bad dreams you’re back in the hospital. You can’t breathe again…or you try to walk and you can’t."

Flannery said he also struggles with being the one in need. He grew up in a family that was strong on serving others and even made a career of that when he joined the WCPO 9 News team, developing the hugely popular “9 On Your Kids Side” segment that shed light on and solved problems for kids in need.

"People have been so good to me, and, yeah, it’s so much easier to give than to receive," Flannery said.

Michael Flannery works to rehabilitate his legs at the Ohio Living Llanfair recovery center, after spending six days in a medically induced coma and a month away from home fighting COVID-19.

Flannery finally got to return home a month after his diagnosis on March 18. He returned to Goodwill working half-days June 1 and returned to full days July 1. He is also resuming his “Know It Alls” game show that has him driving around with contestants answering local trivia questions.

Mostly, Flannery is happy to return to being a husband and father, noting the birthday he celebrated two weeks ago.

“My kids sang Happy Birthday to me, brought out a cake, and I was thinking how different that would’ve been had I not been here,” he said. “That’s the stuff that I hang on to.”

Flannery will continue to see a pulmonologist as his lungs recover from the pneumonia he got while in the hospital, and it will be a “wait and see” on how long the other symptoms last as doctors are still learning about the new disease.

As people get vaccinated and move forward with work and life, Flannery wanted to share a message about those whose recovery from COVID-19 will be a long haul.

"It’s an invisible syndrome that the folks who are long-haulers have," he said. "So just try to remember that if you know somebody who’s a long-hauler and that they’re going through stuff."