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'She has a guardian angel' | COVID-19 damaged a woman's heart so severely, it nearly killed her

Doctors say the coronavirus is leaving behind cardiac damage in some patients. The heart issues can pop up weeks, even months, after your initial COVID-19 diagnosis.

WASHINGTON — Doctors diagnosed Julie Petroff with a weak heart in 2018, and just as the pandemic broke out last year, wanted to implant a defibrillator to help her.

"When the pandemic started I was like I really don't want to go in any hospital," Petroff said. 

So, she put the procedure off, and even though she thought she was being safe, Petroff caught the coronavirus in November. With little to no symptoms, she wasn't too concerned. But it was what came weeks after that would change her life. 

Petroff's heart was failing. Doctors say she coded six times in the helicopter on the way to MedStar Washington Hospital Center. 

"Mrs. Petroff's story is tragic, but it proves she has a guardian angel. The real heroes are the doctors and nurses in the ICU that were able to bring her back. She is a survivor," said Dr. Cyrus Hadadi, one of Petroff's doctors at Washington Hospital Center. 

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Dr. Hadadi says Petroff's heart was damaged from COVID-19. 

"People think that COVID is just a respiratory virus because that's the most obvious manifestation. But really, it's a whole-body virus. Unfortunately there is a real propensity in COVID patients to develop heart issues," Hadadi said. 

Weeks after leaving the hospital, Petroff is still on oxygen. She is working each day to regain her strength. 

Credit: Julie Petroff

"I was in the hospital so long I had to learn how to walk again. It's just changed everything. It's like somebody pulled the rug out from under me and totally upset my life," she said. 

Doctors are working to spread the word about health issues, especially with the heart, that can be caused by the coronavirus. They say cardiac issues can pop up in anyone at anytime after the virus, even if you were asymptomatic. 

"If you've had COVID or even if you haven't, but there's a chance you been exposed, you can have cardiac symptoms. We've seen people come in months later with weakened hearts as a results of what were very minor symptoms," Hadadi said. 

RELATED: Life after COVID: How the virus left two formerly active women barely able to leave the couch even months later

Petroff knows just how lucky she is to be alive. She's sharing her story to encourage others not to put off a doctor's visit during the pandemic like she did. 

"If the doctor tells you to do something, you need to go do it. Don't wait, it could cost you your life," she said. 

Doctors say during the pandemic it is especially important to listen to your body. If you have unexplained fatigue, shortness of breath or palpitations, it is a good idea to follow up with a doctor.