TORONTO -- A new study by the Heart and Stroke Foundation shows the vast majority of health care professionals believe serious damage has been done to the health of Canadians during the pandemic and they blame delays in diagnosis and treatment.

For 45-year-old Katherine Isaac, a serious bout of COVID-19 in March caused not only a stay in intensive care but also a stroke.

“I was on oxygen, I was on medication for my lungs, I was on steroids,” the mother of two said. “I didn’t end up on a ventilator but I had to lie prone.”

She recalls being unable to sustain her breath for more than a second as she did breathing exercises every half hour during her most difficult days.

When she was well enough to try standing, she was unable to. That’s when she was diagnosed with a stroke.

“I had a walker and I also couldn’t grip anything with my left hand,” she said.

The Heart and Stroke survey looks at stroke and heart patients who were hospitalized, but also those who didn’t go to hospital because they either couldn’t get in or because they were afraid of being exposed to COVID-19.

According to the study, 82 per cent of healthcare professionals believe COVID-19-related delays in treatment and diagnosis have resulted in worse health for patients with heart disease or stroke.

Moreover, 54 per cent of health professionals worry about declining health for people who did not have any cardiovascular problems before the pandemic, while 54 per cent cite mental health issues as significant for people living with heart disease or stroke as a result of the pandemic.

Emergency physician Dr. Clare Atzema told CTV News Toronto that she is just now seeing a wave of patients returning to in-person care.

“The Emergency Department visits have gone way up because there’s this backlog of care that patients didn’t attend to or that they wanted to but couldn’t,” Dr. Atzema said. “And family doctors’ offices are reporting the same thing — that they just can’t keep up with all the healthcare visits that didn’t happen in the last year.”

In addition, the health problems have compounded in individuals over the past 18 months, Atzema said. Doctors are now dealing with multiple conditions in patients, along with more advanced stages of illness that could potentially have been prevented.

She wants to see more money put into the healthcare sector to help Canada catch up — money for staffing and money for research that was halted for a time during the pandemic.

While virtual care was effective for some situations, she said returning to in-person care is essential for cardiovascular cases.

“We need to listen to the lungs to see if there’s too much fluid around the heart because maybe the heart isn’t functioning well enough,” she said. “And how can you do that over a video screen?”

Isaac’s message to others is to take COVID-19 and their health seriously.

“I hear a lot about the COVID-19 survival rate and I always say the survival rate, in the beginning, was a very key metric for us to pay attention to but now we are a year and a half in, and there are a lot of other things to consider,” she said.

She says she survived COVID-19 but now she’s left with a lot of other things she may have to live with — fatigue, balance problems and neural issues — possibly, for the rest of her life.