Log In
Challenge-banner Challenge-banner-mobile

Don’t Pass It On: Taking COVID-19 to Heart

An open letter during uncertain times.

Don’t Pass It On: Taking COVID-19 to Heart

I want to take a moment to speak simply as a scientist, leaving politics and economics out of the discussion, about COVID-19 and its potential long-lasting health consequences. I also want to speak as an individual who has heart disease, due to a virus I was exposed to in 1973.

Look at me! You’ve seen me shirtless thousands of times over the decades, as I’ve been educating in print and online. Do I look like I’ve suffered from heart disease most of my life? You’d probably say no, yet I’ve had to take multiple medications for my heart to pump enough blood to my muscles, brain, and other tissues. My heart muscles, believe it or not, are too weak to do the job.

The heart disease I have is known as dilated cardiomyopathy. It wasn’t hereditary and it wasn’t congenital. It was viral! That’s right, as far back as the 1970s and way beyond, certain viruses could cause damage to the heart, as well as other tissues in the body.

The virus I encountered at age 5 was “coxsackievirus.” Funny name, but I can assure you there’s nothing to laugh about with this virus. Despite being very young when I encountered it, I can clearly recall having a severe fever and begging my parents to not make me sit in an ice bath... again. It was a horrendous few days, but little did I realize the long-term damage it was doing inside my body.

As most resilient kids do, I recovered and moved on. It wasn’t until I had to have an X-ray of my back from a motocross accident at 13 years old that doctors first got a glimpse of what was going on in my heart. They were dumbfounded by how large it was for my age, as well as how fast my resting heart rate was. My heart was pumping so fast to try and make up for how weak it was pumping. Yet that only makes things worse.

While I have little to complain about with how my life turned out, I want to express how much this virus, that someone unknowingly passed on to me (and I likely passed to someone else), has altered and impacted my life.

As I said before... look at me! I was built to be a professional athlete of some kind. Yet as a young kid, I couldn’t participate well in many sports. Basketball, soccer, and even football were too “continuous” in action and winded me easily. So, I gravitated to baseball, which required far less endurance than those other popular American sports. And while I made every All-Star team from 8-16 years old – I was an excellent fielder, a solid hitter, and an even better pitcher, even throwing a no-hitter my rookie year in the Babe Ruth League of 13-16-year-olds – I was limited as a baseball player, too. I could run faster than most from home to first base, or from first to second. But if I hit a double or triple, or God forbid, an in-the-park home run, I couldn’t run the bases without becoming winded like I was 85 years old. A Major League career was not in my path, because of a virus I couldn’t even see.

At 13, I raced motocross in the open men’s 125cc class. Most 13-year-olds were still racing the 80cc kids’ bikes, yet thanks to all the weightlifting I already had under my belt, I had the strength to manhandle a much bigger and faster bike. But again, the endurance aspect of motocross crushed my dreams of turning pro, because of a virus no one could see.

While today I’m an athlete in MY world, it’s often disappointing to think of the paths I was disqualified to take due to a virus I had no control over. Then there’s the medications I have to take, which help my heart but not my physique. The type of medications I need cause fatigue and make it hard to lose fat (and easy to gain it). I can have none of that for the training I need to do and the RESULTS I need to show YOU on my own physique, so you can trust that I know what works.

Just know that the RESULTS I show you on my 50-plus-year-old body are not as easily attained as you may have imagined. It takes extra work with my diet and training to stay at 4%-5% body fat year-round, at well over 200 pounds of lean body weight, and with a heart and heart medications that are working against me and my physique goals. And again, all due to a virus that was undetected by all.

Fast-forward to 2020 and me speaking as a scientist and someone experienced with viral infections that can have lifelong damaging results. I just want to remind you to be very careful and please take the coronavirus seriously. Please protect yourself from contracting it, and please protect others from the possibility of you passing it on to them. You cannot see, smell, hear, or taste the virus. You could be getting exposed to it at this very moment. You’ll never know until it’s too late.

The problem with the virus is not just the severity of the symptoms it causes, but it’s long-term health consequences. Getting COVID-19 has been shown to cause damage to cardiovascular tissues like the blood vessels and heart – not too unlike the coxsackievirus that damaged my own heart for life at 5 years old.

Many people report mild symptoms when contracting COVID-19. Yet how severe your symptoms were (or were not) has no indication on the long-term health consequences the virus may leave you with.

I know this is a touchy subject. I don't want to sound pushy, and I'm not shaming anyone. I'm not saying to wear a mask or not. I'm just sharing my own very personal experience with heart disease due to a virus I contracted as a child.

Please, do your best to not contract the coronavirus or pass it on to someone else. The long-lasting health issues it imparts on the body may be as hard to see initially as the virus itself. But you can believe me that the long-term damage this virus can leave behind is very serious. I will likely eventually die of heart complications from an undetected microscopic invader known as a virus.

So please… Stay safe! Stay healthy! Stay strong!


Related Articles