Young Covid Patients Dying From Strokes

People walk around Times Square as screens are illuminated as part of the “Light It Blue” initiative to honor health care workers, during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease in New York City on April 23, 2020. (Reuters photo)

The Washington Post

Updated: April 25th, 2020

Young and Middle-aged People, Barely Sick With Covid-19, Are Dying From Strokes

Doctors sound alarm about patients in their 30s and 40s left debilitated or dead. Some didn’t even know they were infected.

Thomas Oxley wasn’t even on call the day he received the page to come to Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan. There weren’t enough doctors to treat all the emergency stroke patients, and he was needed in the operating room.

The patient’s chart appeared unremarkable at first glance. He took no medications and had no history of chronic conditions. He had been feeling fine, hanging out at home during the lockdown like the rest of the country, when suddenly, he had trouble talking and moving the right side of his body. Imaging showed a large blockage on the left side of his head.

Oxley gasped when he got to the patient’s age and covid-19 status: 44, positive.

The man was among several recent stroke patients in their 30s to 40s who were all infected with the coronavirus. The median age for that type of severe stroke is 74.

As Oxley, an interventional neurologist, began the procedure to remove the clot, he observed something he had never seen before. On the monitors, the brain typically shows up as a tangle of black squiggles — “like a can of spaghetti,” he said — that provide a map of blood vessels. A clot shows up as a blank spot. As he used a needlelike device to pull out the clot, he saw new clots forming in real-time around it.

“This is crazy,” he remembers telling his boss.

Stroke surge

Reports of strokes in the young and middle-aged — not just at Mount Sinai, but also in many other hospitals in communities hit hard by the novel coronavirus — are the latest twist in our evolving understanding of the disease it causes. The numbers of those affected are small but nonetheless remarkable because they challenge how doctors understand the virus. Even as it has infected nearly 2.8 million people worldwide and killed about 195,000 as of Friday, its biological mechanisms continue to elude top scientific minds. Once thought to be a pathogen that primarily attacks the lungs, it has turned out to be a much more formidable foe — impacting nearly every major organ system in the body.

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