Virtua Doctor's Experience is a Warning For All About COVID-19 and Strokes

Virtua Health Cardiologist, Troy Randle, DOBy , FACC, Cardiologist—Virtua Cardiology

I’m one of those people who doesn’t get sick. I eat right, work out four to five days a week, and I take care of my health. So, even in the face of the global pandemic COVID-19, I thought I might get through it unscathed.

Then a colleague got sick—someone I’d been in close contact with shortly before we began wearing masks at all times.

Even still, I went to work in both the hospital and office feeling just fine.

That was, until I didn’t. And when it came on, it came on fast.

I came home from work and felt a strong, sudden headache. It wasn’t a typical COVID-19 symptom, but I knew it was one of many being reported. Not wanting to put my wife and kids at risk, I immediately quarantined myself.

For two days, the terrible headache continued. In the five days that followed, I had a slight cough, muscle aches all over, and a fever, all of which worsened at night. I monitored my oxygen levels with a pulse-ox machine, and I treated my fever and body aches with over-the-counter pain relievers. I also took the supplements vitamin D3, zinc, and quercetin (a flavonoid derived from plants that has anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antioxidant properties).

I started to feel better. Not great, like I wanted to go for a run or even lift weights, but I felt better than I had in a week.

I was cleared to return to work, and I was excited to get back to my patients and my cardiology fellows.

I worked without issues but felt fatigued by mid-afternoon/evening. However, toward the end of the week, I had another terrible headache. Tylenol had no effect on the pain. I was afraid that I was having a recurrence of COVID-19.  My wife recognized this wasn't normal for me, and took me to the emergency room.

Thankfully, she did—because she may have saved my life.

I was having a stroke.

A blood clot had traveled to the vertebral artery in my neck/brain which caused damage to the cerebellum area of my brain—an area in the back of the brain that plays a role in balance and movement. If I didn’t have a headache initially when I got sick with COVID-19, I would have reacted more quickly, knowing that a sudden, severe headache is a sign of stroke.

What I didn’t know about COVID-19 then was that there were reports that people who had it were suffering strokes. And, the patients aren’t necessarily older or more at risk because of other health issues—they’re in their 30s and 40s with no known issues other than they had COVID-19.

With this new strain of coronavirus, every day we’re learning something more about how it behaves in the body. According to the Washington Post, researchers suspect the strokes in COVID-19 patients may be a direct consequence of blood problems that are producing clots all over some people’s bodies.

This has become such a prevalent issue that a few major medical centers are publishing data on this “stroke phenomenon” to provide insights into possible treatments. While it still needs to be studied, many researchers believe that blood clots might be responsible for a significant number of COVID-19 deaths.

I’ve already applied for a research grant from the American Heart Association in hopes of taking part in studies into the short- and long-term heart and vascular effects of COVID-19.

I feel extremely blessed and grateful to share that I haven’t suffered any significant effects from the stroke, short of some persistent weakness and fatigue.

What I want people to know is that there’s nothing typical about this new virus. Every day we’re learning more in hopes of being able to help people recover and to save more lives. The COVID-19 symptoms people are presenting with vary—and now stroke symptoms are on the list. If you notice any symptom out of your norm, seek medical attention.

Finally, I’ll share this—you have to be hyper-vigilant about taking precautions to prevent getting it or spreading it. This includes:

  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you’ve been in a public place or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water aren't readily available, using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
  • Wearing a mask in public settings, especially in grocery stores and pharmacies.
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.

Take care—and stay healthy. 

Updated April 30, 2020

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