By Brooke Katz

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – For some people, COVID symptoms and the after-effects linger on for months. They’re known as “Long Haulers.”

“I always tell my kids we’re warriors,” Kristen Zapata told CBS 11 News.

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His fight for life started in late December when he was diagnosed with COVID-19. The father of five’s health quickly went downhill. Doctors had to induce a coma. It was one he wouldn’t wake up from until March.

“His lungs got very inflamed, full of fluid,” Kristen’s wife Kelly explained.

Now home, Kristen is working to regain his strength. He still has pain in his legs, and has to use a wheelchair to get around. He’s also dealing with hair loss, fatigue and the significant damage to his lungs.

“They have a lot of scarring,” he said. “It’s possible that later on in life I’ll need a lung transplant, but at the moment they seem to be doing okay.”

Kristen is a long-hauler, someone who still hasn’t fully recovered weeks or even months after first getting sick. The symptoms are varied, and they can be anywhere from mild to severe.

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“They’re everything from neurologic headaches, seizures, one of the most common that adults and children have is the loss of smell and taste,” said Dr. James Herd, Chief Medical Officer at Baylor Scott and White All Saints Medical Center. He also told CBS 11 News it’s not just adults who develop this problem. It’s not just those with underlying health conditions either. Long haulers can be healthy many are children.

“In children some studies, especially in the UK, show it can be as high as 30 to 50% will still have symptoms, you know, greater than four weeks out,” Dr. Herd said. “Usually the children don’t have any symptoms with COVID and their post-COVID symptoms, their long hauler symptoms, are worse than the acute symptoms.”

Dr. Herd said researchers don’t yet know if the damage is permanent.

“I think we don’t know for sure because we, we’ve only had this for a year and a half or so,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll come up with some treatments for these autoimmune type continued symptoms, but sometimes the damage may be done to the tissue and they may not be able to recover.”

“You hear stories, but you never know what’s going to happen to you,” Kelly said. “This is real.”

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The Zapatas said they hope others listen to their story, and continue to take measures to keep themselves safe.