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COVID-19 is making amputations more common. Two survivors tell their stories

Jason Laughlin and Aubrey Whelan, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Health & Fitness

PHILADELPHIA -- When Candice Davis contracted COVID-19 in August, she quarantined herself in her South Philadelphia apartment and settled in for what she thought would be a short recovery.

But within days, Davis, 30, was in the ER, shocked by the directive she’d just gotten from a doctor: Go on a ventilator, or risk death.

Three weeks later, she woke up to her mother, Paige, standing over her. “Baby, I know this is going to be sad,” she said, “but you have to make a decision.”

In the weeks she lay unconscious — during which doctors had to transfer her from a ventilator to an ECMO machine, a device that pumps oxygen directly into the blood — Davis had developed life-threatening heart complications, and then circulatory issues in her arms and legs. Now, her mother told her, she was again facing a life-or-death decision. For her to survive, doctors would have to amputate her arms.

“I said, If my arms gotta go, they gotta go,” she said. “It’s my life.”

Davis is one of a small, but growing, population of COVID-19 patients who suffer one of the disease’s most serious complications — circulatory crises caused by clotting that diminishes blood flow to the limbs. Tissue dies and infection sets in, doctors said. The affected limbs have to be removed for the patient to survive.

 

The risks are highest for older people with preexisting conditions like diabetes and peripheral arterial disease. And at the same time, doctors warn, they are having to perform more amputations on people with diabetes, some of whom didn’t have COVID but who may have avoided needed medical care during the pandemic.

But as Davis illustrates, it can happen even to young, healthy people who do not have diabetes or other preexisting conditions.

Now, with COVID-19 cases rising and the omicron variant sparking new fears, Davis is telling her story to urge other young people to take the pandemic seriously.

In the weeks after Davis woke up, she lost her arms below the elbows, a leg below the knee, and part of one foot.

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