Remembering Willie Agee Understanding COVID-19

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Mayor James T. Butts Jr. and City of Inglewood Icon Willie E. Agee.

The announcement of Willie Agee’s passing came as a shock to me and the community of Inglewood residents who knew him as a civic activist, Park and Recreation Commissioner and outspoken supporter of the beautiful city of Inglewood. While Willie had a long and very successful life and I am thankful that I got to know him, it seemed to me that he had a lot of life ahead of him and I wanted to understand what COVID-19 does to one’s body.

I learned that COVID-19 mainly affects the lungs but the virus can make it harder for your heart to function as it should.

Dr. Neha Pathak explained in a recent article that the virus can be a gastrointestinal disease causing only diarrhea and abdominal pain. It can cause symptoms that may be confused with a cold or the flu. It can cause pinkeye, a runny nose, loss of taste and smell, muscle aches, fatigue, diarrhea, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, whole-body rashes, and areas of swelling and redness in just a few spots.

In a more severe disease, doctors have also reported people having heart rhythm problems, heart failure, kidney damage, confusion, headaches, seizures, Guillain-Barre syndrome, and fainting spells, along with new sugar control problems that contributes to a weakened immune system.

Dr. Pathak explained that when viral particles land in our eyes, nose, or mouth, “spike proteins” on the virus connect with a specific receptor, known as ACE2, on the surface of our cells, allowing entry. ACE2 receptors make a great target because they are found in organs throughout our bodies. Once the virus enters, it turns the cell into a factory, making millions and millions of copies of itself – which can then be breathed or coughed out to infect others.

Many with mild or no symptoms are able to fend off the virus before it gets worse. These people may have symptoms only in the upper airway, at the site where they were first infected. But when someone’s body can’t destroy the virus at its entry point, viral particles march deeper into the body. The virus seems to take a few paths from there, setting up camp in the lungs, fighting its way into the digestive tract, or doing some combination of both.

Once the virus is deeply embedded in the body, it begins to cause more severe disease. This is where direct attack on other organs that have ACE2 receptors can occur, including heart muscle, kidneys, blood vessels, the liver, and potentially the central nervous system.

Beyond the collateral damage from COVID-19, other things like low blood pressure that comes from a severe illness, low oxygen levels, ventilator use, and drug treatments themselves can all harm organs throughout the body, including the heart, kidneys, liver, brain, and other organs. With an already compromised immune system as a result of cancer treatment, one can more readily understand how one’s body may not survive COVID-19.

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