She almost passed out on her daily walk.  She had heart failure and needed life support

She almost passed out on her daily walk. She had heart failure and needed life support

She almost passed out on her daily walk. She had heart failure and needed life support

When Jamie Waddell tested positive COVID-19 the first time 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 struggling to walk down the street without feeling faint. Soon she could no longer talk without gagging. By Labor Day, 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’m guessing my heart rate was probably 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 “They did an echocardiogram. My heart was very weak. I was in heart failure.”

Feeling of weakness 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 stimulated and was surprised at how sick she felt.

She almost passed out on her daily walk.  She had heart failure and needed life support

Jamie Waddell likes to walk and regularly walks five miles a day. (Courtesy of Jamie Waddell)

“Body aches, fatigue, fever, breathing problems, sinus congestion — I was sick for about 10 days before I started feeling better,” she says. “I started to feel better. I’m back at work. I actually went to school and started.”

After returning to work and school on August 28, she walked, which she normally did three to five miles a day. But when she was about half a mile from her house, she began to struggle.

“I felt terrible, as if I had passed out very much. I was walking down the street saying, ‘Oh my God, don’t pass out,’” she recalls. “That is unusual for me. I’m quite active.”

At first, she worried she was overexerting herself after recently recovering from COVID-19.

“Maybe I just walked too long. 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, so she asked the doctor for a chest X-ray, which showed normal. She took two days off work and went to her local emergency clinic. She did not test positive for COVID-19 or the flu.

“My vital signs at that visit were a little off. My heart rate was a little higher. I had a fever,” she recalls. “I came home and actually went to sleep.”

But her symptoms intensified. She felt pain in her body, cough, “very bad” fatigue and was vomiting.

“At that moment I knew something was wrong. You don’t get better, you just feel bad,” 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. They could tell almost immediately that something was wrong.”

“I had high lactic acid, which is a sign of sepsis, they did a CT scan and I had pretty bad pneumonia,” she says. “That’s about the last thing I remember. I woke up 10 days later in Chicago.”

Jamie Waddell first noticed something was wrong when she felt faint after a short walk.  (Courtesy of Jamie Waddell)

Jamie Waddell first noticed something was wrong when she felt faint after a short walk. (Courtesy of Jamie Waddell)

The doctors doubted it 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 develop myocarditis after a viral infection. COVID-19 is also known to cause the condition, even in apparently healthy people, Dr. Bow “Ben” Chung, an advanced heart failure specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine who treated Waddell, told

He explains that before the pandemic, a number of viruses – such as adenovirus, coxsackievirus and parvovirus – which usually result in mild infection, sometimes caused “a very significant heart failure reaction”. But “it’s still very unclear” why heart failure occurs in some patients and not others.

By the time Waddell reached her local hospital, doctors had to act quickly to help her. They implanted an impeller, a temporary device that helps her heart pump blood. Heart failure patients normally need help with the left side of the heart, where the Waddell device is placed. But her doctors noticed that the right side of her heart was also struggling, so they implanted another Impella made specifically for that side.

“The right side of the heart is very often forgotten. That’s actually the harder side to deal with,” Dr. Christopher Lawrence, a cardiovascular surgeon at SIU Medicine, part of Southern Illinois University, told “When we put the right side of the Impella in, … literally within minutes she started passing urine, which is a good sign that her organs are actually getting good blood flow, and that was a great thing.”

But doctors in Springfield continued to worry 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 she needed when she got to the University of Chicago was almost the most life support anyone could do,” Dr. Abdul Hafiz, a structural heart disease specialist at SIU Medicine, told “Her heart and lungs weren’t really working at that time.”

Chung adds: “Anyone who is on that level of life support would consider a heart transplant for them because there are millions of machines, wires and tubes sticking out of the patient. You think the only way they can get out of the hospital is with a (heart) replacement.”

Nurse Jamie Waddell has been hospitalized for nearly three weeks with heart disease caused by a COVID-19 infection that she thought she had recovered from a few weeks ago.  (Courtesy of Jamie Waddell)

Nurse Jamie Waddell was hospitalized for nearly three weeks with heart disease caused by a COVID-19 infection she thought she had recovered from weeks before. (Courtesy of Jamie Waddell)

But after being fitted with two temporary Impella devices, Waddell slowly began to improve to the point where it appeared she wouldn’t need a transplant.

“We were amazed,” says Chung. “It was miraculous. … Jamie was on the list for a heart transplant. … If there had been an offer for a heart transplant for her, we might even have accepted the offer.”


After waking up in a hospital room in Chicago, Waddell slowly regained his strength and began to think clearly. Then she found out what she had been through.

“It was definitely surprising to find out my heart was so bad. Again, nothing I wouldn’t expect given my lifestyle,” she says. “It’s shocking to go from someone who is very active and has no medical history to needing a new heart.”

In some ways, her recovery was faster than she expected.

“I was pumping my own blood and breathing my own oxygen, and I was discharged three days later,” says Waddell. “I was in a really bad state, and then all of a sudden I wasn’t anymore.”

Waddell lost a lot of muscle during her hospital stay – nearly three weeks in total. She was able to walk, but it was difficult for her and she started physical therapy. Now, Waddell is seeing a cardiologist and needs some medication. She hopes her story will encourage people to seek help when they feel that something is wrong and to rest when they are sick.

“I work too much. So it’s definitely something that after you’re sick, that … you realize that if you’re not feeling well, you need to take time off,” Waddell says. “Appreciate your body for what it can do.”

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