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From colds to commotio cordis, medical pundits reaching to rule out COVID vax in health scares

MSNBC host's doctor blames her consecutive heart-inflammation hospitalizations on "overactive immune response" to cold.

Published: February 1, 2023 5:47pm

Updated: February 1, 2023 11:56pm

A cold sent a vegetarian, yoga-practicing, nonsmoking middle-aged cable news anchor who runs seven miles "three to four times a week" to the hospital with heart inflammation — twice — for several days each.

A form of cardiac arrest overwhelmingly caused by a projectile to the chest of teenage athletes nearly killed a healthy pro football player during a routine tackle on national television.

Celebrity health scares in the past month have prompted fast and sometimes far-fetched explanations in the media and medical community, seemingly to avoid the feared explanation popular on social media: COVID-19 vaccine injury.

MSNBC host Yasmin Vossoughian told viewers Saturday about the "health scare" that kept her off the air for several weeks without explanation.

She started suffering intermittent chest pains Dec. 20 that spread to her shoulder 10 days later, prompting a trip to the emergency room, which diagnosed Vossoughian with pericarditis "brought on by a virus, a literal common cold," she said. The 44-year-old's heart needed draining, and she spent four nights in the hospital.

After a transfer to NYU Langone, Vossoughian went home Jan. 4. Three days later she felt "a flutter" in her heart and was readmitted, now diagnosed with myocarditis. She spent five more days hospitalized, and more tests revealed "it was still just the cold doing all this," she said.

Vossoughian noted she's an occasional drinker but is still abstaining based on doctor's orders. Her condition has "continued to wax and wane," and she's on medication indefinitely.

NYU Langone cardiologist Greg Katz explained to Vossoughian's viewers that an "overactive immune response" to the cold caused her heart problems. Doctors, he said, have been seeing such problems "a little bit more this year ... it's rare, but it's not the rarest" and "very unpredictable." 

Katz speculated "the season is a little bit more virus-heavy than usual" and immune systems are relatively underexposed due to masking and social distancing during the pandemic. 

Not mentioned: Vossoughian is only a few years older than the under-40s at highest risk of post-vaccination myocarditis and pericarditis. The CDC knew of this association when COVID vaccines were first authorized but left the conditions off post-vaccination surveys.

The anchor said she had been vaccinated against COVID in April 2021. Her employer, NBC Universal, ordered workers last summer to show proof of full vaccination to return in person.

Former New York Times drug industry reporter Alex Berenson said Vossoughian has hosted "segment after segment lauding the mRNAs with the most extreme vaccine fanatics around" on her program and even did a segment on how teenagers can get vaccinated against their parents' wishes.

Neither MSNBC's press office nor Vossoughian's Instagram account, the only way Just the News could find to contact her directly, responded to queries about what non-cold explanations, if any, doctors may have given her.

NFL safety Damar Hamlin and his doctors have stayed tight-lipped on what they think caused his on-field collapse during the Jan. 2 Buffalo Bills-Cincinnati Bengals game. Hamlin didn't address it in a Jan. 28 Instagram video, and family spokesperson Jordon Rooney did not respond to Just the News queries.

That silence has energized doctors and pundits all month long to remotely diagnose commotio cordis, which might be unprecedented in Hamlin's situation.

"Commotio cordis most commonly results from an impact to the left chest with a hardball (e.g., a baseball) during sports activity," according to the healthcare exam prep company StatPearls. It said the condition is reported fewer than 30 times a year, mostly in young athletes playing sports, with "very few" cases older than age 20.

A 2013 review in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found just 7 cases of commotio cordis among 243 high school and college football fatalities reported to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research from 1990 to 2010.

Those who quickly diagnosed Hamlin from afar include CBS News medical contributor David Agus, who had no football example of it at any age, and CNN medical analyst Jonathan Reiner, who shamed "antivaxxers" for speculating that a vaccine caused the collapse.

While Just the News couldn't find any information about Hamlin's vaccination status, and the NFL never had a player mandate, the league claimed in March that 95% of players were vaccinated.

Post-vaccination myocarditis is disproportionately associated with young men and can have long-term effects, as the CDC recently acknowledged, contrary to the condition's frequent portrayal as "mild" and temporary.

In a case series for the European Society of Cardiology's journal in 2021, French cardiologists said they had done the first review of the "impact of direct chest trauma in at-risk sports or activities in patients with a history of myocarditis."

They studied "two cases of life-threatening ventricular arrhythmia secondary to non-penetrating blunt chest trauma" during rugby matches. 

A 26-year-old with a "history of viral myocarditis 10 years prior" lost consciousness after a "typical intensity" hit and suffered "rapid and regular palpitations." He required a "subcutaneous implantable cardioverter-defibrillator." 

A 22-year-old with "no known notable history" died after a direct chest hit. "An autopsy identified a myocardial sequela of fibrosis with no acute inflammatory remodelling compatible with a previous myocarditis," the researchers wrote, recommending screening and prevention to reduce the risk in contact-sports athletes.

In a Tuesday article from UT Health Houston on sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes, Houston Rockets' team cardiologist John Higgins said the "mechanical energy" from the helmet hit to Hamlin's chest "disrupts the heart's electrical impulses and causes commotio cordis," no different from "an object like a baseball or hockey puck."

UT Health Houston quickly responded to a Just the News query but did not answer whether Higgins was confirming the diagnosis or just explaining the mechanism by which it could happen.

On this week's "Talking With Docs" YouTube program, Canadian cardiologist Mike Heffernan said commotio cordis was "most likely" due to a "perfect storm" of conditions on the field but said he's only aware of hockey and baseball examples.

Interventional cardiologist Sanjay Verma gave a lengthy explanation why he believes with "100% scientific and clinical confidence" that's the wrong diagnosis for Hamlin's hit and what followed at the hospital.

"In football, Commotio Cordis is documented with helmet to left chest, not with shoulder pads to chest," he wrote. "Shoulder pads are well designed to absorb the shock of the shoulder's force onto the opposing player."

The American Medical Association's chief science and medical officer also expressed skepticism of commotio cordis in a MedPage Today video. Mariell Jessup said the condition was not only "very unusual" but primarily associated with "trauma to the chest with a ball" in male adolescents whose "chests haven't developed as much." She suspects "underlying, unsuspected cardiomyopathy" in Hamlin, possibly inherited.

Cardiologists told MedPage Today that commotio cordis should be the diagnosis of last resort. It would be "dangerous" to fixate on that diagnosis and "miss something else that might be able to recur and cause another cardiac arrest," University of California San Francisco cardiac electrophysiologist Zian Tseng said.

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