Health

She almost fainted during her daily walk. She was in heart failure and needed life support

She almost fainted during her daily walk. She was in heart failure and needed life support

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When Jamie Waddle tested positive for COVID-19 for the first time in August she was much sicker than she expected. After 10 days she felt better and returned to school and work. But a few weeks later, she noticed she was struggling to walk down the street without feeling faint. Soon, she couldn’t speak without gagging. By Labor Day, she was so sick that she visited the emergency room, where she learned she had sepsis, pneumonia and heart failure.

“Based on the fact that I kept feeling worse and worse, I’m guessing my heart function probably got worse throughout that week, and by the time I got to the emergency room, I was septic,” Waddell, 36, a medical sister from Springfield, Illinois, told TODAY.com. “They did an echocardiogram. My heart function was really low. I had heart failure.

Feeling of exhaustion while walking

In early August, Waddle and her husband were preparing to go on vacation and tested positive for COVID-19. She was vaccinated and boosted and was surprised at how sick she felt.

Jamie Waddle loves to walk and regularly walks five miles a day. (Courtesy of Jamie Waddle)

“Body aches, fatigue, fever, breathing problems, sinus congestion—I was sick for about 10 days before I started feeling better,” she says. “I started to feel better. I went back to work. I actually went to school and started.”

After returning to work and school, on August 28, she went for a walk, something she usually did for three to five miles a day. But when she was about half a mile from her house, she began to struggle.

“I felt terrible, like very faint. I was walking down the street and I was like, ‘Oh my God, don’t pass out,'” she recalled. “This is unusual for me. I’m pretty active.”

At first, she was worried about putting on too much work after recently coming down with COVID-19.

“Maybe I was just walking around too long. It was quite warm that day,” she says. “I thought nothing of it and went to work the next day.”

Two days later, she was coughing and in pain and asked her doctor for a chest X-ray, which turned out to be normal. She gave up work for two days and went to the local emergency clinic. She has not tested positive for COVID-19 or the flu.

“My vitals at this visit were a little off. My heart rate was a little high. I had a fever,” she recalls. “I went home and basically went to bed.”

But her symptoms worsened. She was experiencing body aches, coughing, “extremely bad” fatigue and vomiting.

“That’s when I knew something was wrong. You don’t get better, you just feel bad,” she says. “You can barely move.”

Waddle then went to the emergency room.

“My blood pressure and oxygen levels were really low,” she says. Almost immediately they could tell something was wrong.

“My lactic acid was high, which is a sign of sepsis, and I had a CT scan and I had pretty bad pneumonia,” she says. “That’s the last thing I remember. I woke up 10 days later in Chicago.

Jamie Waddle first noticed something was wrong when she felt faint after a short walk.  (Courtesy of Jamie Waddle)

Jamie Waddle first noticed something was wrong when she felt faint after a short walk. (Courtesy of Jamie Waddle)

Doctors suspected this COVID-19 caused Waddell to develop myocarditis, when the heart muscle becomes inflamed.

Myocarditis and COVID-19

For decades, cardiologists have been trying to understand why some young people get myocarditis after a viral infection. COVID-19 is also known to cause the disease even in apparently healthy people, Dr. Bow “Ben” Chung, an advanced heart failure specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine who treated Waddell, told TODAY.com.

He explains that before the pandemic, a number of viruses – such as adenovirus, coxsackie virus and parvovirus – that would normally result in a mild infection would sometimes cause a “very significant heart failure response”. But “it’s still very unclear” why heart failure occurs in some patients and not others.

By the time Waddell got to the local hospital, doctors had to act quickly to support her. They implanted an Impella, a temporary device to help her heart pump blood. Patients with heart failure usually need help with the left side of the heart, where the Waddell device is placed. But her doctors noticed that the right side of her heart was also struggling, so they implanted another Impella made specifically for that side.

“The right side of the heart is very often forgotten. That’s actually the harder side to deal with,” Christopher Lawrence, MD, a cardiovascular surgeon at SIU Medicine, part of Southern Illinois University, told TODAY.com. “When we put the right side on the Impella, … literally within minutes, she just started passing urine, which is a good sign that her organs are actually getting good blood flow, and that was a great thing.”

But doctors in Springfield were still worried about how sick Waddell was. They thought she would need a new heart, so she was transferred to Chung’s care at the University of Chicago, one of the country’s few transplant centers.

“The amount of life support he needed when he arrived at the University of Chicago was pretty much the most life support anyone could do,” Dr. Abdul Hafeez, a structural heart specialist at SIU Medicine, told TODAY. com. “Her heart and lungs weren’t really working at the time.”

Chung adds: “Anyone who is on that level of life support, you would consider a heart transplant for them because there are millions of machines and cables and tubes sticking out of the patient. You think the only way they’re going to get out of the hospital is to just have (the heart) replaced.”

Nurse Jamie Waddell was hospitalized for almost three weeks with a heart condition from a COVID-19 infection that she thought she had recovered from weeks ago.  (Courtesy of Jamie Waddle)

Nurse Jamie Waddell was hospitalized for almost three weeks with a heart condition from a COVID-19 infection that she thought she had recovered from weeks ago. (Courtesy of Jamie Waddle)

But after the two Impella temporary devices were implanted, Waddell slowly began to improve to the point where it looked like he wouldn’t need a transplant.

“We were amazed,” says Chung. “It was a miracle. … Jamie was on the list for a heart transplant. … If an offer had come in for a heart transplant for her, we might even have accepted the offer.

Recovery

After waking up in a Chicago hospital room, Waddell slowly regains his strength and begins to think clearly. Then she learned what she had been through.

“It was definitely surprising to learn that my heart was doing so badly. Again, just nothing I would ever expect given my lifestyle,” she says. “It’s shocking to go from someone who is very active and has no medical history to needing a new heart.”

In some ways, her recovery was faster than she expected.

“I was pumping my own blood and breathing my own oxygen, and I was discharged three days later,” says Waddle. “I was in really bad shape and suddenly I wasn’t.”

Waddle lost a lot of muscle during his stay in the hospital – almost three weeks in total. She was able to walk but found it difficult and began physical therapy. Waddle is now seeing a cardiologist and needs medication. She hopes her story encourages people to seek help when something seems wrong and to rest when they’re sick.

“I work too much. So that’s definitely something that once you’re sick that … makes you realize that if you’re not feeling well, you need to take time off,” Waddle says. “Appreciate your body for what it can do.”

This article was originally published on TODAY.com


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