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Billings doctor shares experience as COVID-19 patient

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Posted at 10:43 PM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-26 12:05:58-05

A Billings doctor recovering from COVID-19 is encouraging people to continue wearing masks and get the vaccine.

Dr. Adam Zelka, 38, had his lungs tested at St. Vincent Healthcare on Wednesday.

"So I'm getting lung studies to figure out if I have any, hopefully not permanent lung damage, but some ongoing dysfunction with my lungs because of how sick I got last fall," Zelka said. "I was hospitalized for 10 days in November with severe COVID pneumonia, with sepsis and respiratory failure."

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"We are doing a pulmonary function test, which shows how a person's lung function is based on their age, height, gender and race," said Kayla Nelson, St. Vincent respiratory therapist.

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Zelka is a family medicine physician at St. Vincent's Heights clinic.

He was healthy and active when he came down with COVID-19 in November.

"It was on my birthday on Nov. 9 that I started feeling just a little tired and fatigued," he said. "I was feeling run down. I could still smell I could still taste I could still do whatever I want and I just felt like I was tired. My regular day out was on Wednesday, right in the middle of the day, all of a sudden, I just out of nowhere started getting horrible shaking chills and my fever shot up to 104. Five days into that, I was too weak. I was too tired. The body aches were out of this world."

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He said emergency room doctors and nurses gave him IVs, fluids, antibiotics, X-rays and blood tests.

And then he spent 10 days in the COVID unit.

"Early on the morning of my third day in the hospital I completely crashed and they called the Code Blue and everybody rushed into my room," Zelka said. "They put me on what's called heat in high flow oxygen. It's about as much oxygen as they could physically give me without putting me on the ventilator."

And he stayed quarantined and isolated from his family.

"You know I have four daughters, and they're all young, and my wife," Zelka said. "And we kept constant contact with one another. But I could really only talk for about three or four minutes at a time. I would nap for hours."

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Courtesy: St. Vincent Healthcare

Zelka started working part-time in early January and was back to full-time by the third week of the month.

He credits much of his recovery to the hospital's pulmonary rehab program.

His experience gives him some wisdom about COVID-19.

"So I just want people to know just not to live in fear of anything but just to acknowledge the real fact that this is a potentially devastating virus for anybody you know, and I'm proof positive of that," Zelka said. "And if there's anything you can do to avoid getting sick or to reduce the risk of passing it on if you are sick."

Another medical tool showed Zelka has good lung capacity.

However, a pulmonologist will need to go over his test results for the actual evaluation.