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Coronavirus UK: Woman's immune system fluid 'crushed her heart'

A mother-of-three was left fighting for her life after Covid-19 ‘crushed her heart’ with fluid and prevented it from pumping blood around her body. 

Gillian Escott, from Basingstoke, suffered a pericardial effusion, which causes excess fluid to clog up the sac surrounding the heart, known as the pericardium.

A test in A&E confirmed she was sick with the coronavirus — despite not having the typical symptoms, which are usually coughing and breathlessness.

The virus is known to be able to attack the heart and to cause the deadly fluid build-up experienced by Mrs Escott in ‘very rare cases’, one cardiologist said.

The fluid that built up in Mrs Escott’s chest put so much pressure on her heart that it stopped the top two chambers, the atria, from working and nearly killed her, her husband said.

Her blood pressure dropped so low that blood could not circulate her body properly and her organs started to shut down because of a lack of oxygen and nutrients.

Surgeons saved her in the nick of time and she is now recovering at home, warning others that the virus can cause unusual but life-threatening symptoms not talked about as often as the cough and fever.   

Gillian Escott, 59, was left fighting for her life after coronavirus stopped her heart from pumping blood around her body and sent her blood pressure crashing

Gillian Escott, 59, was left fighting for her life after coronavirus stopped her heart from pumping blood around her body and sent her blood pressure crashing

Mrs Escott (with husband Stephen) claims blockages in the upper chambers of her heart had prevented blood from being delivered to vital organs

Mrs Escott (with husband Stephen) claims blockages in the upper chambers of her heart had prevented blood from being delivered to vital organs

The mother-of-three called NHS 111 on May 5 after being bed-bound with severe vomiting and diarrhoea for a week and an ambulance was sent to her door.

Medics believed she was suffering from a stomach bug but decided to take her to hospital when tests revealed her blood pressure was extremely low.

She was kept in A&E for around 24 hours so doctors could do tests and scans, which eventually revealed she had a huge build-up of fluid around her heart. 

This prevented the 59-year-old’s heart from expanding and contracting, which it needs to do to pump blood around the body, and sent her blood pressure crashing. 

Doctors had to insert a tube into her chest and drain the fluid from around her heart in a two-hour operation to save her life. 

The process that triggered the fluid build-up on Mrs Escott’s heart is called ‘cytokine storm’ and is an over-reaction of the immune system which nearly smothered her heart in a desperate bid to get rid of the virus.     

This devastating inflammatory response has commonly been seen in the lungs of Covid-19 patients who fall critically unwell with the virus and need to be hooked up to ventilators. 

In it, cells from the immune system go rushing to the site of infection and cause dangerous levels of swelling which can seriously damage vital organs. 

Her husband Stephen Escott, 56, told the Mirror Online: ‘She went in on the Monday and I got a call from a consultant on Tuesday night at about 11pm, saying they were very concerned about the fluid around the heart and they were going to attempt to put a line into her chest and drain it. 

‘The consultant said at 1am, “She is critically ill but I do believe you will get to see her again; had you asked me the same question two hours ago I would have told you probably not”. 

‘It took two hours to save her life. She was in the right place and had the right people around her.’

WHAT IS THE ‘CYTOKINE STORM’ KILLING COVID-19 PATIENTS?

Devastating lung inflammation triggered by the so-called ‘cytokine storm’ is thought to be what ultimately kills the sickest coronavirus patients. 

Cytokines are a group of cells involved in the immune system’s response to injury or infection. 

They race to the site of a problem and signal to the body to send more immune cells to mount a defense against a foreign invader. 

It’s a crucial part of how the body heals itself – but when it goes haywire it can lead to devastating damage. 

The influx of immune cells causes inflammation which, when persistent, an go awry and start killing cells in the very tissues the immune system is trying to protect 

When overabundant signalling cytokine cells stay switched ‘on’ for too long inflammation can continue out of control. 

This inflammation overwhelms the lungs of coronavirus patients, sending them into respiratory failure an ultimately killing many of them if this inflammation can’t be stemmed.  

Doctors inserted a tube into Mrs Escott’s chest to drain the fluid from around her heart, which almost instantly allowed her blood pressure to return to normal levels.

Dr Aseem Malhotra, an NHS consultant cardiologist based in London, told MailOnline: ‘It sounds like Mrs Escott’s primary symptoms [of coronavirus] was the stomach bug and sometimes the virus can, very rarely, attack the heart as well.

‘Then it causes what we call a pericardial effusion, which is basically the body reacting to the virus and that causes fluid build-up around the heart.

‘If you imagine the heart as a pump, it has to expand and contract to pump blood around the body.

‘It has an outer casing, and if that outer casing gets full of fluid because of inflammation then it can’t expand and the blood pressure drops and you can die. 

‘The only way to save somebody in that situation is to drain that fluid.’

Mrs Escott is now raising awareness about her case to warn others that Covid-19 can surface ‘many more ways’ than just a fever and dry cough. 

Inflammation triggered by the so-called ‘cytokine storm’ is thought to be what ultimately kills many of the sickest coronavirus patients. 

Cytokines are a group of cells involved in the immune system’s response to injury or infection, and include white blood cells.

They race to the site of a problem and signal to the body to send more immune cells to mount a defense against a foreign invader. 

This process is a crucial part of how the body heals itself but when it goes haywire it can lead to devastating damage and a build-up of fluid in the vital organs. 

The influx of immune cells causes inflammation which, when persistent, an go awry and start killing cells in the very tissues the immune system is trying to protect 

When overabundant signalling cytokine cells stay switched ‘on’ for too long inflammation can continue out of control. 

This inflammation overwhelms the lungs of coronavirus patients, sending them into respiratory failure and ultimately killing many of them if this inflammation can’t be stemmed. 

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