High school basketball coach is a COVID-19 long hauler who is still struggling

EVANSVILLE, Indiana — Shane Burkhart keeps telling his wife, Stacy, he just wants to feel normal again.

Nearly two months after contracting COVID-19, however, Burkhart, is far from it.

Burkhart, in his 13th season as Bosse High School’s boys’ basketball coach, suffers from a variety of ailments. While the pandemic hit several of his players in December and Burkhart is still feeling the effects,the Bulldogs have nevertheless managed to post a 14-2 record after a loss Tuesday.

Burkhart isn’t sure how he contracted the virus.

“I would say I got it at practice, but have no idea to be honest,” he said. “With eight different players that had it at once plus myself, it’s hard to say we did not pass it to each other.”

Bosse head basketball coach Shane Burkhart runs his team through drills at practice Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 2, 2021. Diagnosed with COVID-19 in November, Burkhart has been dealing with the after-effects ever since.

Burkhart was never admitted to the hospital, though he was at one for 6 1/2 hours dealing with possible blood clots, one of dozens of strange side effects of COVID-19 that shows up in some patients. Bosse missed 14 days of practice. When the Bulldogs came back, Burkhart missed a couple of sessions for follow-up doctor’s visits.

He had a multitude of symptoms, including body aches, diarrhea, blisters on his body, mood swings, massive headaches, chills and zero energy. He has slept constantly, lost a little vision in his left eye (which is starting to come back), had very little to no feeling in his left foot (especially the last two toes) and his left leg feels like it weighs 10-15 more pounds than his right leg. He has heart palpitations. He quickly runs out of breath trying to be active, and has gone 55 days without a sense of taste or smell.

After all this time, he is still having headaches, is often tired and has little energy.

“I literally wake up at 5:45 for school and walk in the door at around 6 or 6:30 at night, eat and go to bed,” Burkhart said.

He still has body aches (lower back and left leg) and gets dizzy.

“Walking up steps with a laundry basket is challenging at times,” Burkhart said. “I have no taste or smell and dealing with the anxiety and the depression part of this is very hard.”

Bosse Head Coach Shane Burkhart watches his team take on the Castle Knights at Bosse High School in Evansville, Ind., Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. The Knights defeated the Bulldogs 62-45.

He doesn’t want to be away from his family.

“I truly don’t feel like myself in many ways although I do feel a lot better now than I did back in early to mid-January,” Burkhart said.

As far as coaching is concerned, he’s relying heavily on assistant Johnte Hawkins and the rest of his staff.

“It’s going as smooth as it can, but our whole group of coaches and players are doing what everyone else is doing,” Burkhart said. “We are putting in work every day with hopes we can continue playing. You hide the emotion and struggles because it’s not for the players or coaches. It’s your burden. You’re the person in charge and you find ways to show up and fulfill your role every day.”

Still, it’s a struggle.

“It really is. But when you have great people around you, you have a chance to dig your way out at a different pace,” Burkhart said.

Symptoms vary

This virus is so complicated because it hits people in different ways. Some have no symptoms or just a few days of mild ones.

“Some are on their backs for weeks and some never recover,” Burkhart said.

He’s grateful that he really didn’t have any chest congestion or breathing issues, except a shortness of breath while moving.

“Other than the unfortunate ones who have had to be hospitalized you are searching for answers on the computer or listening to the news because you can’t get in to see the doctor,” Burkhart said. “Then the side effects are scary in themselves.”

While those over 60 are at greater risk from COVID-19, the virus has shown that it can be unpredictable, sometimes causing serious or prolonged illness in the young and those with few or no obvious risk factors, said Dr. Heidi Dunniway, Chief Medical Officer, Ascension St. Vincent South Region.

“The variation in both severity of illness and time to recover reinforces the importance of measures to reduce spread, including masking, social distancing, handwashing and now vaccination,” Dunniway said. “While most individuals infected with the COVID-19 virus have mild or no symptoms and recover fairly quickly, there are those who have more prolonged illness. This can include a wide range of symptoms, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, ‘brain fog’ and sleep disturbances.

“For some people, many of whom are younger and had only mild initial infection, these symptoms can persist for weeks or months. We continue to learn more about ‘long-haul’ COVID-19 and how to help those patients recover.”

Burkhart just doesn’t feel like himself, mentally or physically. He’s no longer a whirlwind on the sidelines, calling out instructions and encouragement to his players or giving an official an earful.

Bosse head basketball coach Shane Burkhart runs his team through drills at practice Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 2, 2021. Diagnosed with COVID-19 in November, Burkhart has been dealing with the after-effects ever since.

“Just knowing and hearing the unfortunate incidents of others causes anxiety when you are forced to go through some of the same things,” he said. “It was very hard to go to the hospital without a loved one. It was very, very hard sitting in a room by yourself not knowing if you are going to be admitted and possibly never see your family again.”

All of this weighs on your emotions. Then it follows you and truly challenges your perspective of life, Burkhart said.

“I have never had heart palpitations until this happened,” he said. “It’s an emotional rollercoaster. You cry, laugh and are angry for all of the same reasons. You just don’t feel like yourself.”

As Dunniway noted, COVID knows no age limits.

“This hits the strong as well as the older and not as healthy,” Burkhart said.

For example, his 22-year-old daughter Sydney was running up to 11 miles a day preparing for a half marathon when she contracted the virus in mid-October. All of these months later, she now struggles to run a mile.

“There is no timetable and truly no direction,” Burkhart said. “When this is all over we will have a different outlook on many things. I know I will value a lot of things I have taken for granted.”

Follow Gordon Engelhardt or on Twitter @EngGordon

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