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Young doctor on contracting Covid-19: My oxygen dropped and I was unable to finish a sentence

Dr Owen O’Flynn said it was “disappointing” to see some people flouting the rules, adding that the guidelines were there for a reason.

A DOCTOR HAS shared his experience of contracting Covid-19, explaining that he was left unable to finish a sentence, and his heart function dropped to a third of what it should have been. 

Dr Owen O’Flynn, aged 23 and with no underlying illness, told his story at this evening’s Department of Health briefing as a warning to young people of the effects Covid-19 can have.

I am a 23-year-old who maintained a high level of fitness and I ended up in ICU due to Covid-19.

In late March, he experienced a loss of taste and smell with no other symptoms. At the time he did not qualify for a Covid-19 test; he recovered his sense of taste and smell after a week. 

Around a month later on 26 April, O’Flynn began to feel unwell again after working in a Covid ICU ward. He was tested and the swab was negative. 

“My symptoms at the time were stomach pain, temperature spikes, profuse sweating, constant vomiting and diarrhoea as well as a rash on various parts of my body – particularly my hands and my feet.”

He was hospitalised at Cork University Hospital for what he thought was severe gastroenteritis, and received a negative Covid-19 swab test. 

“My heart tracing was showing signs of damage as were my heart enzymes. Two days later my oxygen levels dropped and a chest x-ray revealed a new lesion. I was informed of a new post Covid syndrome starting to be reported in Italy – typically seen in children.”

O’Flynn was then tested for Covid-19 antibodies through a blood test, the results of which indicated that he had a Covid-19 infection around 4-6 weeks before that.

“Later that evening I rapidly deteriorated,” he said.

My oxygen levels reduced and in the space of a minute I was unable to finish a sentence. On the basis of how quickly I was deteriorating I was admitted to ICU. After analysis of my scans the decision was made to lie me on my front, we occasionally do this for Covid-19 patients who are intubated in ICU to improve lung function.

O’Flynn stabilised after this for a number of days.

“However, my heart function started to drop to a third of what it should be. So, at that point I had two major system failures as part of the post-Covid syndrome, both an acute respiratory failure and an acute heart failure.”

“At that point I started to wonder would I ever get out of ICU, would I die there?”

Medication supported his heart to ensure his blood pressure was maintained.

“Thankfully everything slowly started to resolve. I was discharged from the ward from ICU and a week later I was discharged home.”

He still experienced breathing difficulties after this, and was “breathless from walking around the house. “It took six weeks from discharge to regain a sense of normality,” he said.

He said they will never know how exactly he contracted the virus, and whether he contracted it at work, or through community transmission. 

Speaking at the Department of Health briefing this evening, O’Flynn said it was “disappointing” to see some people flouting the rules, adding that the guidelines were there for a reason. 

With reporting from Michelle Hennessy.

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