Virtua Cardiologist Recovers from Stroke Likely Caused by COVID-19

Blood clots emerging as under-reported coronavirus symptom and cause of death

Dr. Troy Randle of Virtua Cardiology is regaining strength after a stroke that was likely brought on by COVID-19. Although the effects of the virus are largely respiratory, there is early evidence that the novel coronavirus can greatly damage the heart and brain as well.

“My story fits a larger trend,” Dr. Randle said. “Only I am fortunate enough to survive and to not suffer any significant effects from the stroke.”

According to the Washington Post, a significant percent of autopsies of individuals with confirmed COVID-19 have shown hundreds of micro-clots in the lungs. Experts suspect that similar, but larger, clots go off course and travel to the brain or heart, resulting in a stroke or heart attack for some COVID-19 patients.

“Each day we learn more about this virus. Initially, much of the general conversation was about how it spreads. Now the focus is on what it does – and what it is capable of doing – once someone is infected,” said Dr. Martin Topiel, head of infectious diseases for Virtua Health. “It is too early to say for sure, but clots in the blood vessels are emerging as one of the leading causes of death and serious harm connected to COVID-19.”

For Dr. Randle specifically, a blood clot had traveled to the vertebral artery in his neck, which caused damage to his cerebellum [an area of the brain]. In the two weeks prior, he had some of the symptoms associated with COVID-19 – a slight cough, body aches, and fever – but a recurring headache was his primary concern.

“When I was first diagnosed with COVID-19, I had a strong, sudden headache that continued for two days. It abated for a bit as I recovered from the virus, but one day came back even worse than before,” Dr. Randle said. “My wife insisted on taking me to the emergency room; she may have saved my life.”

Demographically, Dr. Randle’s experience is consistent with other such cases across the country. Mount Sinai Health System in New York treated five COVID-positive people for strokes; all were under the age of 50 and had either mild COVID-19 infections or no symptoms at all. Dr. Randle is 49 years old.

In the days following his recovery, Dr. Randle applied for a research grant from the American Heart Association in hopes of participating in studies on the short- and long-term heart and vascular effects of COVID-19. He hopes that he can help contribute to the collective understanding of this “atypical” virus, both as a doctor and a survivor.

He also offers this advice: “COVID-19 seems to vary greatly from person to person – and now stroke symptoms are in the mix. I encourage everyone to closely monitor their health, take note of their symptoms, and seek medical attention when necessary.” 

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