COVID-19 Survivor Gets Surgery for Atrial Fibrillation

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A D.C. restaurant manager spent more than a month in a hospital with COVID-19, but heart problems surfaced after he returned home.

Andre Taylor, a married father of four, caught the virus in the spring. He said it started with a high fever and went downhill fast. He was put on a ventilator at MedSstar Washington Hospital Center.

“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” he said. “And when I went to hospital center, they took my vitals and said, ‘Your heartbeat was going 160 beats a minute. We can’t put you back out there.’ Immediately they rushed me to the back, and 10 minutes later, I was in a coma.”

“When I went into a coma, it was like the COVID death count in the U.S. was like 120 people,” he said. “I woke up, it was 24,000.”

“I asked the nurse, ‘What happened?’” Taylor said. “And then she told me the date, and I was like, ‘It's April?’” 

When Taylor left the hospital, he thought the worst was over, but months after recovering, he started experiencing new symptoms.

“I developed this flutter in my heart, and that was keeping me from being active of any sort,” he said.

He had atrial fibrillation, which was exhausting and frightening.

Coronavirus Cases in DC, Maryland and Virginia

COVID-19 cases by population in D.C. and by county in Maryland and Virginia

Source: DC, MD and VA Health Departments
Credit: Anisa Holmes / NBC Washington

“One of the things that we're starting to observe in our patients is as a result of the coronavirus, they're having inflammation in their cardiac tissue inside of their hearts,” MedStar cardiac electrophysiologist Dr. Cyrus Hadadi said.

The inflammation can infiltrate the heart’s electrical system, causing an abnormal heartbeat, Hadadi said.

“We think part of it is because the lungs are so close to the heart inside the chest that the disease in the lungs can directly spread into the sac surrounding the heart, the pericardium, and then from there into the heart tissue itself,’ Hadadi said. 

Because the coronavirus is so new, doctors are just starting to learn about the long-term impact and the heart damage it can cause weeks or months after the infection clears.

For Taylor, the solution was surgery. In September, he had an ablation — a minimally invasive procedure that uses radiofrequency energy similar to microwave heat to destroy the damaged tissue that’s causing the heart problem.

“And immediately when I walked home, I even felt better, like, I ran up a flight of steps, like, wait a minute, I haven't been able to do that,” he said.

“I'm 51, but I've always felt like I was 25 … but I came out of that hospital feeling like I was 75 ... I had to learn how to walk again … So I will say since my surgery, I feel like my age now. I'm getting back,” Taylor said.

Doctors believe a significant number of patients will develop irregular heart rhythms after a bout with COVID-19, but they don't know why it happens to some people and not others.

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