Jonathan Spira – Helping others with Long Covid survive and thrive

Jonathan Spira ’83 (Penn) has been struggling with the symptoms of Long Covid since early 2021. He is the former chief analyst at a think tank where he researched Information Overload and is now the co-founder and director of research at the Center for Long Covid, a new resource where he and colleagues strive to make educational information available to people who suffer from the condition.

“It was hell,” he said, referring to his Long Covid journey, and the institution he spearheaded is keeping with his lifelong philosophy, “when life deals you lemons, make lemon meringue pie.”

For the first year, his days were cut dramatically short by severe chronic fatigue and low energy. Much of the time he struggled to build up the energy to go for a walk with his faithful companion, Snickers the Wonderdog. He had to decide where to direct what little energy he had. At times he asked himself, “should I shower or cook dinner?”

In the summer of 2021, he was diagnosed with acute renal failure, but at the time didn’t know he had Long Covid — he came to that realization a year later.

The symptoms were sneaky. He felt somewhat normal in the morning and again in the late evening, but any great exertion could upset the applecart. The list of symptoms that he eventually tallied was quite lengthy. They included organ damage, severe chronic fatigue, low energy, brain fog, loss of concentration, blurry vision, skeletal-muscular pain, and dizziness. He would later learn through research and experience that these symptoms are most prevalent in Long Covid.

The eureka moment came thanks to the fact that, after a lifetime of 20/20 vision, he began to have trouble reading due to blurred vision. His ophthalmologist found nothing wrong but sent him to an optometrist for a refraction test, which showed that he needed glasses. But the glasses didn’t correct the problem, nor did a change in prescription. 

Jonathan recognized that his blurry vision was due to tired eye muscles and that sent him down a rabbit hole of research leading to a self-diagnosis of Long Covid, after which he presented his findings to both his general practitioner and nephrologist, who concurred with his conclusion.

The Center for Long Covid Research

That’s where the idea for the Center for Long Covid Research came in. Inspired by his own struggles with Long Covid, he realized that many could not do the research he engaged in. He took it upon himself to share authoritative and vetted information about Long Covid to help those who either: have the debilitating condition, think they might, are caregivers to someone afflicted, or provide professional healthcare.

Center for Long Covid Research

The Trials and Tribulations of Long Covid

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention broadly defines Long Covid “as signs, symptoms, and conditions that continue or develop after initial Covid-19 or SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

Long Covid is not one condition; rather, it may have multiple overlapping symptoms and these can include neurological, respiratory, systemic, and inflammatory ones. Because of the variety of symptoms, Long Covid can often go undiagnosed and some patients may end up misdiagnosed.

Jonathan, who started doing Covid research in early 2020, believes he contracted an asymptomatic case of Covid in early 2021 during the Delta wave but he only came to that conclusion over a year later.

Jonathan’s Pilam roots

In his sophomore year, Jonathan moved into the Pilam house as a boarder with his roommate, Fred Mannheimer, who was a brother. He said, “it had food and brothers and TV and beer. Every Thursday we had happy hour with a band in the Candlelight Inn, the bar in the basement.” 

He joined Pilam soon after and became actively involved. As the KOE, he found creative ways to finance a new roof, new windows and a new kitchen by collecting past debts and getting a loan from national.

Jonathan remains in touch with much of the Brotherhood and his brothers consider him to nominally hold the role of “president” of the somewhat inactive alumni association.

Support the Long Covid cause

Jonathan speaks publicly about Long Covid, regularly meets people who have been impacted by this condition, and often counsels those who have had similar experiences themselves or with family members.

If you are interested in supporting the Center’s work, he welcomes your support. “There is room at the table for anyone and everyone who wants to assist and contribute in some fashion.” The Center for Long Covid Research is looking for volunteers to assist with research, outreach, peer counseling, and also to sit on the board. If you wish to volunteer, please contact Jonathan.

The Center would also be happy to work with chapter fundraisers that help support the cause. If you’d like to financially support the Center for Long Covid Research, please make a donation