▶ Watch Video: COVID-19 “long-haulers” cope with lasting virus symptoms

Millions of Americans are battling lingering symptoms of COVID-19 — months after being diagnosed with the disease. An estimated 5 to 10% of COVID patients are “long haulers” who feel endlessly trapped in the virus’ grip.

After enduring COVID-19 in December, 38-year-old Camille Hlavka, a dedicated marathon runner, now often gasps for breath. Her most cherished activities are a struggle, including story time with her 2-year-old son Reid.

“This happens a lot when I try to speak for longer sentences,” Hlavka said of gasping for breath.

The hardest part for her, she said, is feeling like she’s not herself. “I never realized what a gift it was to just be able to speak,” she said.

Dr. Diana Kirke, an ear, nose and throat doctor at Mount Sinai Hospital, found vocal cord weakness impaired Hlavka’s speech and breathing, a likely nerve injury from COVID-19.

“What you can see immediately is that the right side is weaker than the left side,” Kirke said.

It’s a surprising addition to what’s known as long-haul syndrome. Other symptoms include fatigue, headache, brain fog, depression and anxiety. The National Institutes of Health is spending $1.15 billion to study the problem.

“A lot of the patients, they don’t understand why they have these breathing troubles when their lung function tests are normal,” Kirke said.

Hlavka is getting therapy to relearn the most natural thing in the world — breathing.