For This College Athlete, Covid-19 Was Just the Start of a Nightmare
“I could die.”
Demi Washington would never forget the chill of fear as she thought a doctor explained what could happen if she continued to play college basketball with a damaged heart after a fight with the Kovid-19.
“It’s bad,” she recalls telling herself. “It’s really very bad.”
It began in December, four months early in what he now describes as a nightmare.
A 19-year-old sophomore guard in the Vanderbilt basketball team, Washington, listened silently while discussing a doctor’s diagnosis. She had myocarditis: an inflammation of the heart that can lead to heart failure and doctors believe that coronovirus was linked to her contract in November.
Medication could not help. Neither could perform surgery. It was uncertain whether Washington, the elite athlete, would be willing to discuss what he would like to live with the Kovid-19-bound heart damage could ever play basketball. Her only hope was that moving away from the sport she loved would help heal her heart.
A question came: what if his condition is not known?
His doctor told him Hank gathersA college basketball star in the early 1990s who tried to play despite a heart problem. The father collapsed and died during a game.
When Washington first spoke last month, he said, “She told me while I was at home.” “It was like, ‘Wow, okay, this is so serious.”
It will probably take years for researchers to fully understand the long-term effects of Kovid-19. Damage to the heart and lungs is a primary concern. And the rate of myocarditis in coronovirus-infected athletes is unclear. One Ohio State University research paper published in JAMA Cardiology Four of the 26 athletes tested in September described evidence of myocarditis who had Kovid-19.
Other research, including a study by the University of Wisconsin Myocarditis at low rates. The doctors at Vanderbilt told me that 138 athletes at the university had tested positive for the virus. Washington was one of the six people who had a heart condition.
“There is optimism, but also fear,” she said during a phone call on Monday. “I am living with doubt. It has only been a while. “
That morning, she went to the Vanderbilt Medical Clinic for an all-important heart test. Will it show that she was healthy again? Or will she stay in decorum?
When the epidemic began, Washington was proud to take the virus seriously. She left Vanderbilt in March and returned to her North Carolina hometown, where she spent the summer vacationing with her parents. When she returned to campus in the fall, she lived in a dormitory with strict rules to limit the virus.
“If I wasn’t going to basketball practice, I was in a class, or I was studying in my room,” she said. “I felt like I was really on top of this.”
Then one night in early November he ate sushi with a group consisting of two of his companions. The next day, a member of that group tested positive for the virus. Washington is present in an off-campus hotel. A week later, he also tested positive. Things did not go bad at first. Washington did not lose its sense of taste or smell. She was not tired. At most, he had a stuffy nose.
When can she return to court with her team?
The Southeastern Conference requires all athletes who test positive for the virus to have a heart test before they can play again: an electrocardiogram, a heart scan, and blood work.
Washington passed each test.
In almost every other university in America, it would have been enough for him to play again. But Vanderbilt requires an additional examination: a magnetic resonance imaging test, or MRI
“This extra step, that extra precaution, it probably saved my life,” Washington said.
Her MRI results showed scarring of her left ventricle and an alarming level of excess fluid. His condition may increase continuously to play. He could have a heart attack or an attack.
Washington opted to stay on campus instead of going home. With her peers and being in school, she floated over her spirits.
Her father, former NFL defenseman Dwayne Washington, described her daughter as a young woman in constant motion. She never slowed down through her teenage years, whether it was swimming, playing field or basketball. The highlight of her 19th birthday was eight miles with friends.
The diagnosis meant that she could not do so. He was asked to rest for three months. He performed a heart monitor every day – every day. To stay fit, he tried to walk as much as possible, but may even get into trouble. “Sometimes if I was walking too fast,” he said, “I can really feel the pressure in my chest.”
Every strange sensation in his body caused awe. Sometimes she would sit in her hostel room and cry.
Washington took solace in the idea that sharing his story might have persuaded others to take the virus more seriously. She wrote A first person account for Athletic. I talked to him over the course of several weeks.
She could only watch as her partner struggled with injuries and viruses. In mid-January, Vanderbilt women joined a small group of college basketball teams, down seven healthy players Decided to end his season.
“I have never felt so helpless in my life,” Washington said looking at the season’s mess. “I would have done anything to help, even if it meant setting the screen on the court or a rebound and then getting to my seat.”
By mid-January, he was still not allowed to walk, but his medical team eventually let him go through the light, watching closely at the gym.
Frank Fish, a Vanderbilt doctor who helped diagnose Washington’s myocarditis and followed his case, had become optimistic about his prospects for recovery. Her results were consistently good with treadmill tests and heart rhythm monitoring.
All important tests, another MRI, still loom. What will it show?
“I don’t know if I’m going to be able to play again,” he told me. He was also worried about what his current battle would mean in the future.
Still Washington remained hopeful. He did not doubt his decision to return to Vanderbilt last August. She had put so much effort into becoming good enough to play Division I basketball that she could not imagine suppressing stagnation even in the midst of an epidemic. If given the chance, she will do everything – except for that sushi dinner.
Eventually, she was waiting for the day to arrive.
Washington went from his dorm to the clinic on Monday. She lay down inside the MRI machine for a 45-minute exam.
He did not have to wait long for the results. The next afternoon, his cellphone buzzed. A team trainer had a lesson.
Washington took a deep breath and quickly skipped to the last line: “Since prior cardiac MRI, the findings of acute myositis have been resolved.”
His heart was healthy again.
We talked a few hours later. I could hear the excitement in his voice. And relief.
“Finally,” he said, “I can put it behind me and live life.”