Robert Wright, 57, a 32-year police veteran with 26 years at the Coral Gables Police Department, took pride in being fit. He had no underlying health problems and was a regular runner. So, it was no surprise that after he tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-April, he had very mild symptoms and just felt a “little worn down.”
But then came May 16th.
On that day, he took his daughter’s car to be serviced at a tire center near his home in South Miami. Moments after speaking to an attendant at the location’s waiting area, Mr. Wright would suffer a major stroke. As he recalls the details of that day, he says he still can’t believe he was a candidate for such an event that would leave him requiring speech and physical therapy.
Whether the stroke was related to his COVID-19 infection remains an unanswered question — although studies have linked the coronavirus to various neurological effects, including stroke.
(Watch video: The Baptist Health Resource team hears from stroke patient, Robert Wright, and Guilherme Dabus, M.D., an interventional neuroradiologist at Miami Neuroscience Institute. Video by George Carvalho.)
“I sat down in the lobby of the tire shop, and maybe 45 minutes later — I don’t know; I lost track of time — the manager was calling my name and he said, ‘Mr. Wright, your car is ready,’ and I couldn’t discern who was calling me,” remembers Mr. Wright, a husband and father of three adult children. “And I kept hearing my name over and over, maybe three or four or five times. And, finally, I came to and kind of stumbled up to the manager’s desk and I remember hearing a voice next to me saying, ‘this man needs help.’
“I was feeling a little nauseous, and I was in some sort of fog-like state of mind. All of a sudden, I think the manager said that we’re going to call the paramedics.”
Mr. Wright says he was in a “state of denial” throughout the experience. He had never suffered from high blood pressure or heart disease, two major risk factors for stroke. Initially, Mr. Wright would spend about a week at Baptist Hospital after undergoing an immediate — and successful — thrombectomy, a procedure during which a catheter is threaded into an artery at the groin and up through the neck until it reaches the blood clot causing the stroke.
These Cases are ‘True Emergencies’
He had suffered an ischemic stroke, the most common type. But it was also the most serious variation — referred to as a “large vessel occlusion” caused by a blood clot, according to Guilherme Dabus, M.D., an interventional neuroradiologist at Miami Neuroscience Institute, part of Baptist Health South Florida.
“Robert went through this sophisticated CAT scan that basically showed that he didn’t have any bleeding,” explains Dr. Dabus. “But he did have a very large clot blocking one of the main vessels on the right side of his brain. Like with many of these cases, he was disabled at the time. He was extremely symptomatic. He was not moving his left side and he couldn’t speak well. These types of cases are true emergencies. The faster you act, the faster you go in and we can open up or unblock the vessel to restore the blood flow to the brain, the greater the chance that the patient will have a meaningful recovery.”
That’s exactly what happened in Mr. Wright’s case. He immediately underwent a procedure to remove the clot called thrombectomy. And it went very well for him. Mr. Wright went through some tough days after being released from Baptist Hospital, including bouts of near-fainting or overall weakness that required a couple of short stays back at the hospital where he received I.V. fluids. Now, nearly three months after his stroke, his life is close to normal again, as he continues physical therapy sessions.
Dr. Dabus points out that he has seen COVID-19 patients with serious symptoms from the coronavirus who also are stricken with strokes, although these cases represent a small percentage of patients with COVID-19.
“There’s a lot we’re learning about the link between COVID-19 and strokes,” said Dr. Dabus. “We’ve noticed that patients who have COVID do have an increased tendency of having a stroke. It’s still not very common for patients with COVID-19 — it’s about 3 percent of the patients. Many of these strokes have been very severe, and a lot of those patients develop large vessel occlusions (when a larger artery in the brain is blocked), and unfortunately, most of them are not doing well.”
COVID-19 and Blood Clots
Studies have indicated that COVID-19 may cause strokes as a result of a “hypercoagulable state” as well as the effect of the virus in the vessel wall that is caused by the infection says Dr. Dabus. That means that blood clots form easily throughout the body. “Some patients have multiple problems, such as pulmonary embolisms (a blockage of vessels in the lungs by blood clot) and DVT (deep Vein thrombosis), when veins in the legs become blocked,” he said.
Mr. Wright is grateful he is recovering from such a serious stroke, but does wonder about the possible COVID-19 connection. “I certainly wasn’t a candidate for a stroke. It really makes you wonder why I had it. I think I’m leaning towards being a COVID patient (as the cause).”
His primary focus now is to get back to his regular daily routine as a police officer, family man and fitness enthusiast.
“I haven’t gone out for any long runs yet, but I’m doing some walking,” he says. “I’m also doing some physical therapy and mild exercise. Now, I’m stable again. I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things.
“I am very thankful much for having such a professional team of medical staff to intervene so that I could have a healthier rest of my life.”