(p. A1) 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 novel 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.
Reports of strokes in the young and middle-aged – not just at Mount Sinai but in many other hospitals in communities hit hard by the coronavirus – are the latest twist in our evolving understanding of its connected disease, covid-19. Even as the virus has infected nearly 2.8 million people worldwide and killed 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.
Until recently, there was little hard data on strokes and covid-19.
There was one report out of Wuhan, China, that showed that some hospitalized patients had experienced strokes but many of those were seriously ill and elderly. But the linkage was considered more of “a clinical hunch by a lot of really smart people,” said Sherry H-Y Chou, a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center neurologist and critical care doctor.
Now for the first time, three large U.S. medical centers are preparing to publish data on the stroke phenomenon. The numbers are small, only a few dozen per location, but they provide new insights into what the virus does to our bodies.
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