When Ethan Hamilton contracted COVID-19 in the summer of 2020, he did not think he would be feeling it’s effects in several months later.
Hamilton was diagnosed with COVID-19 in July 2020. He spent the month of July recovering from the virus, only to have a heart problem pop up months later.
“I hadn’t really felt anything until October when my heart would start hurting a little bit out of nowhere,” Hamilton said. “Sometimes it would start palpitating out of nowhere even if I was resting. Usually after hard workouts, my heart would start palpitating and burning a bit.”
Doctors at Spectrum Health in Big Rapids took x-rays of Hamilton’s chest, drew blood, and took an ECG. They had Hamilton wear a heart monitor for two weeks and found that COVID-19 caused permanent damage to his heart.
Hamilton has heart arrhythmia, a condition that causes the electrical impulses that coordinate heartbeats to not work properly. This causes issues with the opening and closing of his bicuspid valve, which is responsible for regulating blood flow in the heart and keeping blood from flowing backward through the heart.
According to Ferris’s Assistant Professor at the College of Health Professions Dr. Emmanuel Jadhav, heart palpitations are a long-term effect of COVID-19.
“There are several kinds of cardiac concerns related to COVID-19,” Jadhav said. “These unknown long-term effects contribute to what make COVID-19 a concern not to be taken lightly.”
Much about the long-term effects of COVID-19 remains unknown, especially when considering the effects of the virus on the heart. For instance, a study published in the British Journal of Medicine titled “Resurgence of sport in the wake of COVID-19: cardiac considerations in competitive athletes” found that COVID-19 could directly infect heart cells. However, the long-term effects of the condition, especially on athletes when resuming training, is unknown.
As for Hamilton, his doctors told him he could resume training if he could deal with the pain.
“They told me I was fine to run if I didn’t have any issues outside of the pain, and I haven’t really had any outside of just exhaustion,” Hamilton said. “It’s just something you have to grind through and not really worry about the pain.
“There’s still instances of pain, especially after hard workouts, but it’s just a matter of ignoring the pain and pushing through it. Otherwise, I haven’t had anything too concerning.”
Hamilton’s mindset allowed him to resume training, but he still experiences exhaustion. He said he is “kind of just tired all the time.”
When he visited his cardiologist, Hamilton was told that multiple patients had the same electrical arrythmia that he does. The cardiologist told Hamilton and the prior patients that their condition was caused by COVID-19, but anything else about their condition was unknown.
An article in the journal Sports Medicine titled “COVID-19 and Review of Current Recommendations for Return to Athletic Play” discussed athletes returning to training after having COVID-19.
“In regards to the athlete, physicians must be comprehensive in their evaluation for those that are infected and are looking to return to play following resolution of their infection,” the article said. “Specifically, athletes should have a thorough cardiovascular exam as patients with COVID-19 infection have shown increased troponin levels above the 99th percentile, suggestive of significant myocardial damage. The effects of having athletes return to play without proper cardiac clearance would be devastating.”
Regarding heart issues caused from COVID-19 and Hamilton’s condition, Ferris Athletics could not comment because of a policy preventing them from disclosing any medical-related information about student-athletes.
As of now, Hamilton said his training is going “pretty darn well” and he is feeling better. He is not sure what, if any, future implications his heart condition will have on his ability to run track, but he is confident he will be ready for outdoor season.
Hamilton is currently unable to join his team in meets as he progresses through his recovery. So much is unknown about the way COVID-19 affects the heart long-term. Fortunately for Hamilton, he is feeling better and excited for his future athletic involvement for Ferris’s track team.