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Marian University’s Ramya Yeleti was sick with COVID-19 in April. The virus infected her heart, requiring open-heart surgery a month later.

Indianapolis Star

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The last thing that Ramya Yeleti remembers thinking before she passed out in the emergency room that August day was that she might never wake up again.

The 25-year-old medical student knew something was very wrong with her heart, a suspicion the doctors’ reaction confirmed. Once they took her vitals, they ordered an EKG, whisked her back to a trauma room, and placed shock pads on her chest. They also gave her some medicine to try to bring her heart back into a normal rhythm.

“The doctors were obviously freaking out. Something is really, really wrong,” Yeleti recalled thinking. “Then I passed out. I remember just thinking I hope my family will be OK. … I did think I might die.”

Ramya Yeleti of Carmel looks toward her surgery scar. (Photo: Grace Hollars/IndyStar)

Six days later Yeleti woke up in IU Health Methodist Hospital and slowly started to learn what she had been through over the past week: days on a heart-lung life support machine, having her name added to the heart transplant list, open heart surgery, and a recovery that doctors found nothing short of miraculous.

And, her doctors believe, the whole saga started months earlier when the Carmel resident fell ill with the coronavirus.

Doctors will never know exactly what role, if any, the coronavirus played in Yeleti’s near-death experience. However, they suspect that the virus weakened her immune system, setting her up for disaster when another virus struck some months later and leading to a heart condition known as myocarditis that can be life-threatening.

“This is a very rare event, but it is happening,” said Dr. Cole Beeler, medical director of infection prevention at Indiana University Health University Hospital, who did not treat Yeleti himself. ”We see this with other viral infections, too, where the initial viral infection sets off an issue with the immune system that leads to an attack of various organs. … With COVID, we’re still learning a lot about it. It may be that we even discover a broader set of immune processes and diseases that develop after the infection.”

Is she infected now with the coronavirus?

Some viruses like Coxsackie or influenza in very rare cases have been known to cause damage to the heart similar to what Yeleti sustained. Now, the SARS-Co-V-2 virus also has been shown to cause myocarditis in young adults.

In Yeleti’s case, doctors do not know whether Yeleti was actively infected with the coronavirus. Signals were mixed. During her hospital stay, she tested positive for the coronavirus as well as a different virus. But she also had antibodies to the coronavirus, suggesting she had been infected in the past. The positive coronavirus result may have been a red herring, detecting dead strands of the virus in her system rather than an active infection, doctors say.

Still, just to be sure,