She almost fainted on her daily walk. She was in heart failure and needed life support
When Jamie Waddell first tested positive for COVID-19 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 having trouble walking down the street without fainting. Soon, she could not speak without breathing. On the day of work, 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 was feeling worse and worse, I think my heart function had probably been going down that whole week, and by the time I got to the ER, I was septic,” Waddell, 36, a nurse. from Springfield, Illinois, tells TODAY.com. “They did an echocardiogram. My heart function was really low. I was in heart failure.”
You feel faint while walking
In early August, Waddell and her husband were preparing to go on vacation and tested positive for COVID-19. She was vaccinated and raised and was surprised by how sick she felt.
Jamie Waddell loves to walk and regularly walks five miles a day. (Courtesy Jamie Waddell)
“Body aches, fatigue, fever, your 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 was actually going 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 home, she began to struggle.
“I felt terrible, like very faint. I was walking down the street saying, ‘Oh my God, don’t pass out,'” she recalled. “This is unusual for me. I’m quite active.”
At first, she worried that she pushed herself too hard since she recently had COVID-19.
“Maybe I just took a very long walk. 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 came back normal. She took two days off work and went to her local urgent care clinic. She did not test positive for COVID-19 or the flu.
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“My vital signs at that visit were a little off. My heart rate was a little high. I had a fever,” she recalls. “I came home and basically went to sleep.”
But her symptoms intensified. She experienced body aches, coughing, “really bad” fatigue and vomiting.
“At that moment, I knew something was wrong. “You’re not getting better, you’re just feeling worse,” she says. “You can barely move.”
That’s when Waddell 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 they did 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 Waddell first noticed something was wrong when he passed out after taking a short walk. (Courtesy Jamie Waddell)
Doctors suspected that COVID-19 caused Waddell to develop myocarditis, when the heart muscle becomes inflamed.
Myocarditis and COVID-19
For decades, cardiologists have tried to understand why some young people experience myocarditis after a viral infection. COVID-19 is also known to cause this condition, even in apparently healthy people, Dr. Bow “Ben” Chung, an advanced heart failure specialist at University Chicago Medicine who treated Waddell.
He explains that before the pandemic a number of viruses – such as adenovirus, coxsackievirus and parvovirus – that usually result in a mild infection would sometimes go on to cause “a very significant heart failure reaction”. But it is “still very unclear” why heart failure occurs in some patients and not others.
By the time Waddell got to her local hospital, doctors had to act quickly to support her. They implanted an Impella, a temporary device to help her heart pump blood. Heart failure patients normally need help with the left side of the heart, where Waddell’s device was placed. But her doctors noticed that the right side of her heart was also suffering, so they implanted another Impella designed specifically for that side.
“The right side of the heart is often forgotten. It’s actually the hardest part to deal with, too,” says Dr. Christopher Lawrence, a cardiovascular surgeon at SIU Medicine, part of Southern Illinois University, told TODAY.com. “When we put the right side of Impella in, … literally within minutes she just started urinating, which is a good sign that her organs actually have good blood flow, and that was just a beautiful thing.”
But doctors in Springfield 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 a handful of transplant centers in the country.
“The amount of life support he needed when he arrived at the University of Chicago was about the most life support anyone can do,” says Dr. Abdul Hafiz, structural heart disease specialist at SIU Medicine, told TODAY.com. “Her heart and lungs were basically not working at that time.”
Chung adds: “Anyone who is on that level of life support, you would think about a heart transplant for them because there are a million machines and wires and tubes coming out of the patient. You think the only way for them to get out of the hospital is by replacing (the heart).
Nurse Jamie Waddell was hospitalized for nearly three weeks with a heart condition from a COVID-19 infection she thought she had recovered from weeks ago. (Courtesy Jamie Waddell)
But after the implantation of two temporary Impella devices, Waddell slowly began to improve to the point where it looked like he might not need a transplant.
“We were surprised,” says Chung. “It was a miracle. … Jamie was listed for a heart transplant. … If there had been an offer for a heart transplant for him, we might have accepted the offer.”
After waking up in a hospital room in Chicago, Waddell slowly regained his strength and began to think clearly. Afterwards, she learned what she had been through.
“It was definitely surprising to learn that my heart was doing so badly. Again, nothing I would have expected given my lifestyle,” she says. “It’s shocking to go from someone who is very active with no health history to needing a new heart.”
In some ways, her recovery was faster than she expected.
“I was pumping my blood and getting my oxygen and I was released three days later,” Waddell says. “I was in really bad shape and then all of a sudden I wasn’t.”
Waddell lost a lot of muscle during her time in the hospital – almost three weeks in total. She could walk, but it felt difficult and she started physical therapy. Now, Waddell sees a cardiologist and needs some medication. She hopes her story will encourage people to seek help when something feels wrong and to rest when they are sick.
“I work a lot. So that’s definitely something that once you’re sick, … it makes you realize if you’re not feeling well, you need to take time to rest,” Waddell says. “Appreciate your body for what it can do.”
This article was originally published on TODAY.com