By Liz Collin

ROCHESTER, Minn. (WCCO) — A Minnesota man who nearly lost his life to COVID-19 has spent eight long months fighting back.

When you see the damage done to Chris Dellinger’s lungs, you can better understand his battle to breathe.

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We first met Dellinger this past fall, right after his three-month stay in Mayo Clinic’s ICU in Rochester recovering from COVID-19.

(credit: CBS)

“I still can’t believe people think that this is fake and not real,” Dellinger said.

It’s easy to see how much better he looks today.

“I’ve increased my step count to over 10,000 which is a far cry from eight steps in the hospital,” he said.

The 50-year-old is also almost off oxygen and just recently went back to work five days a week.

Still just six hours a day.

“If I would have had any preexisting conditions. Or, if I would have smoked or had anything, anything wrong with my lungs I would not be here right now,” Dellinger said.

In the last year, the lungs are perhaps the most telling visual when it comes to COVID-19.

A healthy pair will show black on the right and left.

In Dellinger’s case, take a look at the increase in cloudiness as the damage set in by September.

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(credit: CBS)

You can also see the tubes from the ECHMO machine pumping oxygen to his body when he needed it most.

“That’s when he was about as sick as he got was that chest X-ray,” Annie Johnson said.

Johnson is a nurse practitioner who helped develop Mayo’s ICU Recovery Program.

They’ve seen 70 recovering COVID patients in their clinic so far. All with lingering issues.

The most common include: fatigue, shortness of breath, body aches and a struggle to focus.

“Just that sense of kind of cob webs, people often call it a brain fog, difficulty with memory and word finding trouble,” Johnson said.

“It’s hard to know who that patient is going to be. We haven’t really nailed that down yet,” she added.

What Johnson is sure of is the critical role of her therapy colleagues. Pushing patients out of their hospital beds as soon as possible.

“They are the key to patients like Chris thriving as much as he is right now,” Johnson said.

Dellinger heads to physical therapy twice a week and works out at home with the hope he’ll soon feel like himself again.

“We know that people can get better working with good teams for recovery it’s possible,” Johnson said.

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Dellinger is scheduled to have a full CT scan at the end of April. Johnson believes his lungs will look much better by then but says it’s too early to say about any permanent damage.

Liz Collin