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Pulmonary embolism common after COVID-19 virus; Beaumont doctor shares warning signs

Posted at 4:41 PM, Jun 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-29 20:58:37-04

TROY, Mich. (WXYZ) — Imagine for a moment, one day your child is a college athlete competing at the top of her game.

The next battle with COVID lands her in the hospital with a close call with death and at first, no one seems to know why.

Now this family has a warning for others to dig deeper and learn what may be lurking inside you to take your breath away.

Allesha Roberts is a powerhouse on the volleyball court and at six foot she plays for Northwood College. She suffers from asthma but when that mixed with COVID her breathing became a struggle.

“It was really scary but at the same time we did not know what was going on,” said Tamica Roberts, Allesha's mother.

Her taste was gone and after a two-week quarantine she felt fine but nine months later in December, she had severe shortness of breath. Doctors in the emergency room gave her steroids and an inhaler.

“After that, I was like I can't even walk up the stairs I can't even walk my dog for five minutes something is not right,” said Allesha Roberts.

She went back to the E.R. and her mother told them to run every test available.

“We were called and said that we had one hour to get over to the main hospital at Beaumont they were going to do emergency surgery,” Tamica said.

Doctors told Allesha's parents she had a pulmonary embolism. She had a blood clot on her lungs and also on the main valve of her heart.

Dr. Terry Bowers is the Director of Vascular Medicine at Beaumont Royal Oak and Founder of the Pulmonary Embolism Response Team (PERT). They handle emergency cases.

“When people die of P.E. they're not dying of clot in their lungs they're dying of the right heart failing because of the clot,” said Dr. Terry Bowers.

Every year doctors at Royal Oak Beaumont treat about 700 patients with P.E. and if you count the entire health system that number jumps to 2500.

The majority 70% are low risk the other 30% are at risk of heart failure.

“Once it starts to fail it's very unpredictable and once this spiral occurs then people die suddenly right in front of us,” Dr. Bowers said.

Dr. Bowers says there is a link to COVID. Allesha was a healthy college athlete before the virus. But it took a special test called a D-Dimer test that looks at inflammation and clotting in the body and a C-T scan to uncover the clots.

“Normal D-Dimer is less than 200 Allesha's was greater than 10,000,” Dr. Bowers said.

“Did they tell you what might have happened had you not made it to the emergency room for this emergency operation on time?” asked Carolyn Clifford.

“Yes, they told us it could have been fatal she literally could have picked up a gallon of milk and went into cardiac arrest,” said Tamica Roberts.

Doctors often use blood thinners to get rid of clots but for Allesha they tried a new strategy developed two years ago.

“We put a large catheter in the vein. It's eight millimeters in diameter and it went up through the right heart into the pulmonary artery able to pull the clot out with a syringe,” said Dr. Bowers.

“Wow, so you went into both lungs and sort of sucked the clots right out," Dr. Bowers said. “Right out of both of them and it's really one of the most gratifying things that I do.”

“Tell me what did that feel like?” Clifford asked.

“It was literally a fresh breath of air I couldn't even breath before that without some kind of pain,” said Allesha Roberts.

“Allesha is really out of the woods for now but she's on blood thinner and so the next critical decision is when we're going to be bold enough to stop the blood thinner,” Dr. Bowers said.

“Hey, will watch her closely for another six months and then reassess,” Dr. Bowers added. “Unless she develops a new clot, she's fine, she'll be playing volleyball again.”

With COVID there has been a major spike in P.E. cases.

One in ten people will have a potentially life-threatening clot so it's important the public be aware of the warning signs including difficulty breathing and chest pains when breathing in deep and swelling of your legs.