RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Chavez Adams, 29, found himself at WakeMed about a month after thinking he was in the clear from his COVID-19 infection.
“Those 14 days were up. I felt fine. We had a quarantined and we continue with our regular lives,”said Chavez.
Just a few weeks later, during a his routine five mile hike things got bad.
“One mile in, I could barely breathe. I couldn’t walk hardly so I had to call Ashlea and said you know, pick me up,” said Chavez.
His wife, Ashlea Adams, has also been infected with COVID-19 but her symptoms were nowhere near this severe.
Chavez spent the next few days feeling sick. He visited urgent care followed by an emergency room where he was provided with some medication to bring down his temperature. He went back to urgent care and another emergency room after his condition worsened. one point, passing out.
“I didn’t anticipate this will be something I would have to undergo or deal with,” said Chavez.
It was then that Chavez finally realized the extent of damage to his body. Doctors at WakeMed suggested emergency surgery to stabilize him.
“His kidney, liver, lungs and all of that they were starting to shut down and they weren’t exactly what was sure it was happening with the heart just yet,” said Ashlea.
Cardiologists inserted a temporary Impella heart pump to keep her husband alive.
“The doctors are telling us that they don’t see a lot of cases like that but they do see some,” said Chavez.
In fact, a study out of Mount Sinai looked at heart scans of more than 300 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. It found 62-percent had some kind of damage to the heart.
“I want people to take it seriously and I want people to be more responsible in how they engage in the world,” said Chavez.
The couple said they were infected in August when they put their guard down to visit with friends.
“All it took was one time to be in contact with one person who just didn’t know they had it to impact our lives forever,” said Ashlea.
Today Chavez is still on medication and scheduled for rehab sessions through April. His insurance has covered most of the medical costs but there are some out-of-pocket expenses.
The couple said it’s important to stay vigilant of COVID-19 risks until it’s safe to do otherwise.
“Not just safe for you but safe for everyone,” said Ashlea.
Why do complications seemingly arise weeks later?
Dr. Manesh Patel, Chief of Cardiology at Duke Health said the heart may be impacted in several ways.
“The virus does more than just affect the lungs. We actually know that the virus works by getting into blood vessels and obviously, those blood vessels are all throughout your body including your heart,” Patel said.
Stress on the heart, inflammation in the blood vessels, clots, and damaged heart muscles can all be a result of an infection.
Patel said issues like blood clots can be simpler to reverse through medication but damage to the heart muscles may be harder. He said there is a large spectrum of recovery time from damage to the heart or other organs. What doctors need to know is who is at risk for developing a heart problem post-COVID-19.
“We’re looking obviously to study people longer and learn from those patients to see who seems to be getting better and who doesn’t,” said the cardiologist.
While 14 days is the amount of time people may need to stop spreading the virus, it does not mean impacts of the virus disappear.
“As people start to get back to activity, they may start to experience the symptoms described – shortness of breath, chest discomfort, the inability to return to the activity they were used to. So the COVID that may have infected the heart or vascular system might be demonstrating that effect,” Patel said.
While it’s difficult to know all the impacts of the COVID-19 on the organs, Patel said to assess your health with your pre-infection condition by asking questions like”
- Can you walk the same distance?
- Can you go up and downstairs?
- Do you have discomfort in your chest?
Patel said people should not avoid seeking medical care when it comes to heart conditions or any other ailment. Getting help early enough is the key to getting the best medical treatment possible.
COVID lungs worse than smokers’ lungs
COVID-19 is known to impact the lungs and cause complications in that part of the body. Some doctors are seeing those impacts in mild cases.
“This new COVID lung that we’re seeing is really turning out to be worse than a smoker’s lung,” said Dr. Brittany Bankhead-Kendall at Texas Tech University. She works in a trauma unit and an ICU. She sees damaged lungs up close in the trauma unit where patients are admitted for non-coronavirus issues.
She told CBS 17, she and her colleagues began to notice the pattern in X-Rays and can now distinguish between infected and healthy lungs without ever meeting the patient.
“We’re still seeing that on people who are just walking around the community and thought they didn’t have any problems but they just had a positive test recently,” said Dr. Bankhead-Kendall.
Bankhead-Kendall worries about a future wave of patients seeking long term care. She said some patients have come in weeks after their initial infection as a result of damage to the lungs.
“Having these blood clots, having these collapsed lungs, having these chest X-rays showing scarring that’s worsening,” said the doctor.