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America's first coronavirus victim, 57, died of a 'ruptured heart

America’s first coronavirus victim, 57, died in February after the infection caused her heart to ‘burst’, autopsy report reveals

  • Patricia Dowd, 57, died on February 6 at her home in Santa Clara, California, after days after complaining of flu like symptoms
  • Dowd’s death was revealed to be the first from coronavirus in the US, with the  first death in California previously thought to have been on March 4 
  • Her family say she was healthy, regularly exercised, ate well and was seldom ill
  • An autopsy report has revealed the virus had spread to her heart muscle, and the infection caused a valve to rupture     
  • Outside experts say her heart could have burst due to inflammation or by an overreaction from the immune system 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

The first US coronavirus victim, Patricia Dowd, 57 (pictured), died from a ruptured heart, which was triggered by an attack from the virus, an autopsy report reveals

The first coronavirus victim in the US died from a ruptured heart, which was triggered by an attack from the virus, an autopsy report reveals.

Patricia Dowd, a 57-year-old mother, died at her home in Santa Clara County, which is 48 miles south of San Francisco, on February 6.

Because she had gone untested, her death went unreported. But a recent investigation found she was infected with COVID-19 – the disease caused by the virus – meaning it had been spreading in the US weeks earlier than suspected.

Doctors initially believed she had died after suffering a heart attack. 

However, an autopsy report exclusively obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle reveals the infection had spread to her heart muscle, which caused a valve in her heart to burst. 

‘There’s something abnormal about the fact that a perfectly normal heart has burst open,’ forensic pathologist Dr Judy Melinek, who was not involved in the autopsy, told the Chronicle. 

‘The heart has ruptured. Normal hearts don’t rupture. This heart ruptured or tore open because of an infection of the heart muscle caused by the coronavirus.’ 

Dr Susan Parson, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, found coronavirus in Dowd’s heart, lungs, trachea and intestines. 

Dowd was described in the report as ‘mildly obese’ but had no other medical conditions listed.

Dowd died on February 6 at her home in Santa Clara County, California, after complaining of flu-ike symptoms. It has also been revealed that a 69-year-old man also died in Santa Clara County from coronavirus on February 17, which is 12 days before what was believed to be the first death in Washington state

The medical examiner performed the autopsy on February 7, but it was not filed until Thursday, April 23.  

Dr Andrew Connolly, a pathologist at the University of California, San Francisco, told the Chronicle that the virus could have caused inflammation within the heart.

He added that an overreaction of the immune system could have caused inflammation. Connolly also said Dowd had mild pneumonia that could have contributed to her death.

Previous studies have found an association between COVID-19 infection and heart problems. 

One small study in China published in March found that at lest one in five coronavirus patients have heart damage after being infected.  

Dowd’s family say she was healthy, regularly exercised, ate well and was seldom ill. Her daughter found her dead two hours after she sent an email to a colleague at 8am. Pictured: Dowd with her daughter, left, and right

Two other people in California – a 69-year-old man who died on February 17 and a 70-year-old man who died on March 6 – also tested positive after their deaths. 

Until now, it was believed that the first death in California occurred on March 4 and that the first US death occurred on February 26 in Washington state. 

Dowd’s death reemphasizes how far behind the virus the US was and how out of control it had become before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rolled out testing.

This is despite the illness having been prevalent in China as far back as late November or early December.

The federal government has insisted that it reacted quickly to the pandemic, but it has yet to concede that many more people were likely infected earlier than were confirmed by the official numbers.  

Outside experts say Dowd’s heart could have burst due to inflammation or by an overreaction from the immune system. Pictured: Healthcare workers are carrying a coronavirus patient to an ambulance by the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, April 21

Dowd worked as a manager for Lam Research, a semiconductor company which has offices across China, including in Wuhan – where the virus originated – along with other parts of Asia such as South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. 

According to her relatives, she had been suffering from flu-like symptoms for a few days before her death, but had recovered. 

She had not been traveling shortly before her death, but her family says that her colleagues did.      

On the day of her death, Dowd was working from home and had corresponded with a colleague via email at around 8am. 

Her daughter found her dead two hours later. Her brother, Rick Cabello, said it was unusual for her to become ill. 

‘She wasn’t feeling well, which was very unusual for her. I remember her specifically saying: “I’m not feeling well,”‘ he told The Los Angeles Times. 

He said Dowd was a frequent traveler but had not been anywhere before her death.  

Her co-workers at Lam Research also traveled frequently. 

‘Where did this come from if it wasn’t her traveling? Patricia may not be the first. 

‘It’s just the earliest we have found so far,’ her brother-in-law, Jeff Macias, said. 

The CDC came under immense scrutiny for its slow response to the virus, which meant that sick people could not get access to tests for weeks. Pictured: A medical worker at Elmhurst Hospital tells people who are lined up for coronavirus testing  to social distance, in Queens, New York, April 22

‘If we had had widespread testing earlier and we were able to document the level of transmission in the county, if we had understood then people were already dying, yes, we probably would have acted earlier than we did, which would have meant more time at home,’ Cody said.

On April 8, Lam Research announced it was donating $25million to COVID-19 relief. 

A spokesman did not immediately respond to’s inquiries about the company’s employee travel schedule on Thursday.    

The CDC came under immense scrutiny for its slow response to the virus, which meant that sick people could not get access to tests for weeks. 

In the wake of the disclosure, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom said he has directed coroners throughout the state to take another look at deaths as far back as December to help establish more clearly when the epidemic took hold in California.

He declined to say whether the two newly recognized deaths would have changed his decisions about when to order a shutdown. 

Newsom imposed a statewide one in late March. 

Coronavirus spread silently through cities including New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and Seattle in February when the world was focused only on China, new study claims

Researchers from Northwestern University have estimated that based on lockdown orders, confirmed cases, people traveling and moving habits, the true number of people infected across those five cities by March 1 was 28,000. 

Only 23 cases had been confirmed at the time. 

Their estimates were shared by The New York Times on Thursday and paint a worrying picture of how far behind the US was in responding to the threat.   

In New York City, by far the worst affected place in America with more than 150,000 cases, there was only one reported case on March 1.

The researchers predict that there were in fact more than 10,000 cases in New York City by then. 

They base their research on the number of people traveling to the US, especially New York, from China and Europe in the weeks before travel was suspended by President Trump. 

Seattle, where the first confirmed cases were recorded, had 13 by March 1. 

How cases were reported across five major US cities by March 1 versus where the researchers say they were 

The researchers say the truer number was 2,300. They predict that the same number of people were infected in Boston, where there was only one known case on March 1. 

Chicago, they estimate, had 3,300 cases when only three had been confirmed and San Francisco, which had only five confirmed cases, likely had 9,800, they said. 

It is unclear how exactly they reached their estimates or how accurate it is. 

Some other experts told the Times their findings seemed ‘too high’, whereas others say they are on par for what they have seen.  


January 20: First confirmed case in the US is a man in Washington who recently returned from Wuhan 

January 31: Trump bans foreign nationals entering the US from China 

February 6: Patricia Dowd dies in Santa Clara at home but the cause of her death is unknown 

February 17: A 69-year-old man dies in Santa Clara 

February 29: US confirms first COVID-19 death in Washington State  

March 6: A 70-year-old man dies in Santa Clara 

March 11: Trump imposes travel ban on Europe 

March 13: Trump declares state of emergency

March 15: White House announces 15 days to slow the spread 

By this point, several states had begun rolling out various forms of lock-down to try to control the spread

March 29: White House extends guidelines by 30 days

April 11: US surpasses Italy as the country with the highest number of deaths

April 16: White House issues reopening guidelines. 

April 23: Another four million Americans file unemployment claims in a week, bringing the total number of claims to 26million  

Seattle went into lockdown earlier than many of the other cities, so could have produced the same number of estimated cases despite having more confirmed cases than Boston, the model predicts. 

The spread was happening when officials were grappling with how seriously to take the threat and wrestling with whether or not to issue stay-at-home orders, the researchers say. 

‘In the background, you have this silence chain of transmission of thousands of people,’ Alessandro Vespignani, who led the team, said.

Trump has insisted repeatedly that he handled the virus well by closing down travel by foreign nationals from China in late January. 

But by then, the virus epicenter had shifted to Europe and flights were still arriving in the US every day. 

‘Knowing the number of flights coming into New York from Italy, it was like watching a horrible train wreck in slow motion,’ Adriana Heguy, director of the Genome Technology Center at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, said. 

The first death in the US was previously thought to have occurred on February 29 in Washington State and was that of a man who had recently come back from Wuhan. 

This week, Californian officials revealed that a seemingly healthy woman died on February 6 from the virus. 

Patricia Dowd died at home in Santa Clara County, which takes in San Jose and is just south of San Francisco and the Bay Area, but her death went unreported as a coronavirus death because she was not tested. 

According to her relatives, she had been suffering flu like symptoms for a few days before her death but had recovered. 

They chalked her death down to a heart attack but were confused by it because she exercised regularly, did not smoke and watched her diet.

They also say she had no underlying health conditions. Two other deaths were also recorded that had previously gone undetected.

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