A 23-year-old student who had a stroke after testing positive for COVID-19 is urging young people to take it seriously.
Riley Behrens was quarantining in preparation of seeing his family for the Thanksgiving. Despite having no symptoms, he took a test to make sure he did not have coronavirus. He was shocked when the test came back positive.
The nightmare began from there. What first started as mild symptoms eventually turned in a mini-stroke a few days later.
“I had chest pain and shortness of breath, which, at that point, I didn't really think was too bad,” Behrens, 23, of Tempe, Arizona told TODAY.
“I woke up with (my) left side weakened. So, my whole left side — like from my eye being spotty down to I couldn't stand on one leg because of the weakness, and my grip strength decreased.”
Behrens shared his experience on Twitter through multiple updates on November 29.
His first tweet reads, “Earlier today, I was diagnoses as having suffered a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or what’s commonly known as a ministroke. I’m 23 years old and I just had a stroke due to Covid-19 complications. Not taking this pandemic seriously? Keep reading.”
The tweet has been liked more than 150,000 times.
“I went from feeling mild symptoms to full hospitalization in less than 48 hours. My O2 levels dropped, so I was given supplemental oxygen and steroid pills.”
Doctors told Behrens he had a TIA, aka a mini stroke, caused by a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain.
“Over the last two days, I’ve been given injections in my stomach and taken more pills than I can count, while other medication was injected into my IV. I’ve had MRIs of my brain, CT scans, X-Rays – all to determine the level of lung and brain damage.”
Behrens, a government affairs and international relations student at Harvard University, said he had been taking the pandemic fairly seriously, wearing masks and social distancing while around others.
But an act of kindness is what lead to contracting the novel virus.
The rugby player received a call from one of his friends asking for a place to stay after the friend temporarily lost his housing. Behrens was unaware that his friend had just been to a wedding, and became exposed just before Thanksgiving.
“I can’t hold a grudge against him,” Behrens said.
He said doctors told him TIAs normally resolve within 24 hours. But because his TIA seems to be linked to the COVID-19 infection, his outcome is uncertain.
“The hope is the symptoms keep improving,” Behrens said. “This is really new and so much is unknown and that’s what's scarier than anything. I can live with the symptoms if I know what's going on, but I don't know. The TIA Increases the risk of a major stroke, so am I going to have a major stroke?”
Since having the mini-stroke, Brehren has been unable to play the piano, which he’s loved doing since a child. He is unable to put his left fingers on the keys.
“I got home and tried to play the piano. I started crying. The piano has been such a big part of me and I could not play it,” he said. “This is another testament to just how serious COVID is.”
Behrens hopes his story will help others realize how the virus can affect anyone.
“COVID-19 is unpredictable. You don’t know how your body is going to react,” he said. “It was scary because I’m 23 and I’m used to being able to play 240 minutes of rugby.”