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COVID-19 autopsies reveal critical cardiopulmonary findings

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When looking at their lungs, they found hemorrhages and blood clots in the vessels. They now know this was a significant reason for the deaths.

NEW ORLEANS (WWL-TV) — Pathologists with LSU Health are learning more about why COVID-19 can be deadly. As part of a study just released, they performed autopsies on 10 African American people who died from the virus. The findings provide new and critical information to help treat others.

“No one knew in these COVID patients that the clotting abnormalities would exist before the pandemic started,” said Richard Vander Heide, MD, PhD, Professor and Director of Pathology Research at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine.

Dr. Vander Heide was part of a team with Dr. Sharon Fox to perform the first series of autopsies on 10 African Amercians ages 44 to 78. Many had a history of hypertension, obesity,  and insulin-dependent type II diabetes, and chronic kidney disease. 

“It is the most severely affected demographic in the United States and in New Orleans in particular and at UMC, those were all the deaths we had at the point of submitting the manuscript,” Dr. Fox said. 

The autopsies were performed at University Medical Center. It’s one of the few hospitals in the country equipped with an autopsy suite that meets CDC standards for performing an autopsy of COVID-19 positive patients safely. 

When looking at their lungs, they found hemorrhage and blood clots in the vessels. They now know this was a significant reason for the deaths.

“As opposed to being inflammation in the lung spaces causing some of the respiratory difficulties in these patients, it became clear that blood clots and damage to the small blood vessels in the lungs were actually a major factor in causing the inability to get oxygen,” Dr. Fox explained. 

It was a surprising find and awareness of these clotting problems can now help create better treatment plans for others. 

“I contacted the clinicians at the hospital and said ‘hey were seeing clotting here, these patients are different than what you might expect,” Dr. Vander Heide said.

They can’t say for sure why this happens, but the findings are a critical step in understanding and fighting the virus. 

While not included in the original study, autopsies in people who were not African American showed the same clotting issues. These pathologists believe the results may be applicable to a broader demographic. 

You can read the full report HERE

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