Hospitalized COVID-19 patients with severe illness more likely to have organ damage

NOW: Hospitalized COVID-19 patients with severe illness more likely to have organ damage

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Doctors say more than 75-percent of patients hospitalized with severe illness from COVID-19 experienced some sort of continued symptoms, but some are even ending up with organ damage. They say there is a subgroup of people who have damage to their lungs and heart after experiencing severe COVID-19 disease.

“They have quite a lot of residual symptoms when they’re discharged from the hospital, including damage to their lungs and heart,” said Dr. Aurora Pop-Vicas, infectious disease specialist, UW Health Madison.

Les Johns of Milwaukee considers himself an active guy. He’s 62 years old and still bikes 20 miles every other day.

“I’ve never had heart issues all my life,” said Johns.

Johns tested positive for COVID-19 in April and became very sick, experiencing intense symptoms like constant vomiting, loss of taste and smell, sweating and hallucinations.

“The North Shore Health Department called me twice a day because they said you should get hospitalized, and I refused to go to the hospital,” he said.

Johns was cleared from COVID-19 in May and continued to do his normal activities, but two months later in August, he rushed to a Milwaukee emergency room after feeling something wrong with his heart.

“After all the tests, they found out my heart was only working 22-percent, and it’s supposed to be working about 60-percent,” Johns said.

Doctors at UW Health in Madison say they are seeing initial signals of heart damage from COVID-19, but they’re still learning more about it.

“Patients who have COVID-19 infection can develop heart inflammation and maybe even develop longer heart disease,” said Dr. Pop-Vicas.

“My doctors think it was part of COVID,” Johns said. “They asked me if they could take my data because there were other people across the country that had the same symptom.”

Dr. Pop-Vicas says some studies in China also show one in five hospitalized COVID-19 patients still had lung issues, like decreased function and scarring.

“I think that it depends on how severe their illness was, and not everyone is the same,” she said.

It turns out Johns had atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat causing deprived blood flow. After receiving an electric shock and now taking blood thinners daily, he’s feeling back to normal.

Johns says he’s grateful he listened to his heart and went to the emergency room that day, he wants others to do the same if they were ever in a similar situation.

“It was a little frightening because I didn’t know what was it and what caused it,” said Johns. “When I sat down with the doctor, they told me my heart could’ve exploded and died.”

Dr. Pop-Vicas says if you have had COVID-19 and feel irregular symptoms to seek medical help immediately.  

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