Covid – A Year On: Fitness teacher learns to walk again in recovery journey

Debbie Saunders contracted coronavirus before the first national lockdown in March last year.

Debbie Saunders contracted coronavirus before the first national lockdown in March last year. - Credit: Debbie Saunders

A Weston fitness instructor has learnt to walk, stand and breathe fully again following her monumental fight to get back to full health after contracting Covid-19.  

Debbie Saunders, in her 50s, lost her sense of taste and smell and had ‘a very mild cough’ before the first lockdown in March last year, which she put down to stress as she was running her gymnastic and fitness classes online while non-essential buildings had to close.  

However, 10 days later, she was left fighting for her life.

Debbie said: “For six weeks, I couldn’t walk, stand, or breathe. I came down with pneumonia, my brain stopped working and my heart rate was through the roof. I wouldn’t go into hospital, they had to bring a defibrillator into my bedroom.” 

“It was nothing like a bad cold or flu, it was horrific.” 

Debbie, who has been a fitness teacher for around 30 years, said her life has been ‘massively affected’ since contracting coronavirus and now has long Covid, which can last weeks or months after the infection has gone.  

She was one of the first people to be signed up to the NHS recovery programme, Your Covid Recovery, in September - six months after her initial infection.  

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Debbie added: “The thing with long Covid is there’s nothing they can give you. You can treat infections, broken bones, but months later I still couldn’t walk properly. Any strenuous exercise and I would be in bed for days. 

“In the recovery programme, I was taught how to breathe again from the top of my lungs, as Covid affected the bottom of my lungs, so I could breathe using the whole of my lungs again. In the first few days, I could only be active for 30 minutes a day - reading a book or using my brain in any shape or form was considered active.  

“I’ve only just got back to running my fitness classes after nearly a year and just three weeks ago, I started driving again.  

“My husband, Nigel, has been formidable, he's incredible and turned into my full-time carer. The paramedics who treated me at home were also amazing, they were fearless. 

“I’m probably about 70 per cent back to full health and I want to get better. I don’t want people to think I was stronger mentally – I was well enough to be helped at home, I was lucky. I don’t want to see anyone else go through what I went through.” 

Debbie, who runs Weston Gymnastics Club at The Potteries in town, said everyone involved in her classes has been ‘incredible’ and she has had ‘phenomenal support’.   

The gym is set to reopen, government guidance permitting, on April 12 and face-to-face adult fitness classes are planned to restart on May 17, for people who have had a second coronavirus vaccine only.