Long COVID changed his life. Now he's part of a study looking at the scope of the problem in Sask.

Researchers with the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan have launched a new study with the goal of understanding what long COVID looks like in the province.

Tens of thousands of people in Saskatchewan could have long COVID.

A photo of Jarrid Linder during his time at the Regina General Hospital. As part of his care he was put into a medically induced coma. (Submitted by Jared Linder)

Jarrid Linder still has the scar across his neck from when health-care workers had to intubate him as he was placed into a medically-induced coma to deal with COVID-19.

It's been nearly a year since the 32-year-old was first diagnosed in March 2021. 

He survived, but his life has been changed.

Linder had to relearn how to walk after 40 days in the medically induced coma. He had to sell his home and move in with his parents so they could take care of him. He hasn't worked since he had COVID-19 and now must rely on disability payments. 

"I used to take one pill before all this started, it was just for acid reflux, and now I take 22 pills a day," he told CBC News in a recent interview. 

Jarrid Linder of Regina still feels the effects of long COVID even months after his initial experience ended. (Submitted by Jarrid Linder)

Linder is one of the many people who continue to suffer prolonged symptoms caused by the virus, a nebulous condition known as long COVID. 

For Linder, long COVID means chronic fatigue, head aches, dizziness and heart problems. 

"It's been hell," he said.

New study looks to find answers

There are still many questions about long COVID, and very few answers about how it should be treated and how long it will last.

A team of experts in Saskatchewan are hoping to start providing those answers.

Researchers with the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) at the University of Saskatchewan have launched a new study they hope will give policy makers a picture of what long COVID looks like in the province.

Researchers have continued to study the virus over the course of the pandemic. 

Alyson Kelvin, a virologist at the VIDO, is one of them. She's also one of the lead researchers on the long COVID study. 

"Because this is a really new disease and we don't know much about it, we also don't have the services in place to support people with the care that they need to help them recover. " she said. 

Alyson Kelvin works at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, or VIDO, located at the University of Saskatchewan  ( David Stobbe/VIDO/University of Saskatchewan)

The study, called Sask Long COVID, is meant to address that lack of data and knowledge. A survey is being conducted through an app, allowing people to answer questions about what their symptoms are and how they're feeling. 

The app will then follow up once a month for a year, so researchers and participants can track how long COVID develops. 

Kelvin said the team is looking for people who fall into three categories: those who have long COVID, those who had COVID-19 but never developed long COVID, and those who never caught the virus. 

Researchers want at least 500 people that fall into each category.

Tens of thousands of patients could be in Saskatchewan 

It's not clear how many people suffer from long COVID. Research has projected anywhere from 30 per cent to 70 per cent of those who get COVID-19 develop long COVID symptoms. 

If those projections are accurate, a minimum of 36,000 people would have some form of long COVID in Saskatchewan, where more than 120,000 people are confirmed to have caught the virus. 

"I think the more people who respond to the app, the better idea we'll have to put services in place and really attack this disease and help people live through it."

This will be the first study looking at COVID-19 at this scale in Saskatchewan. 

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Matthew Cardinal is another person who spent time in the ICU as a result of COVID-19 and who continues to deal with long COVID. 

He struggles with memory fog and fatigue. 

"I never thought this would be affecting me almost a year later," Cardinal said. 

Kelvin said that long COVID can affect anyone, not just those wound up in the ICU. Even those who had mild cases or were asymptomatic can develop long COVID. 

Although women and the elderly are more susceptible, children can develop long COVID as well, Kelvin said. 

"It's going to put further strain on our health-care system and it can block people from getting back to their normal lives, which we all want as we try to leave this pandemic," she said. 

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Cardinal and Linder have both signed up for the study.

Linder said it made sense to contribute.

He said his recovery time at Wascana Rehab was a learning experience for everyone. 

"They're doing their best to do what they can do and with what they know, but it's just COVID is something very different than anybody has ever seen," Linder said. 

He hopes his contribution can make a difference. 

"Even if it helps one other person. It's definitely worth it," he said.