By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Today is National Wear Red Day in support of the American Heart Association’s effort to help fight heart disease and strokes in women. And while COVID-19 has dominated the headlines for nearly a year, heart disease remains the No. 1 health threat for women.

February is heart month.

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New research shows COVID can cause a variety of heart problems, but whether it’s linked to COVID or not, heart disease can strike anyone. Doctors say it’s important to know the warning signs.

“I had no health problems at all and now I have heart failure from COVID,” Madeline Neville said.

Neville is just 21 with a harrowing story of why everyone should take COVID-19 seriously.

“It’s very crazy,” she said.

It started as a typical case of COVID. Neville, a junior at Temple University, was infected in October by a roommate. Her classic symptoms were mild and she was better in a couple of weeks.

“I thought I was on the road to recovery,” she said.

But then at home with family in Scranton for Thanksgiving, she said she was getting shortness of breath. That was followed by horrible chest pain and a trip to the hospital.

“It just continued to get progressively worse,” she said.

Chest X-rays showed fluid in her lungs, doctors figured she had pneumonia, a common COVID side effect. But the treatment of fluids and antibiotics “was only making it worse at the time.”

“It was when I passed out the doctors thought to look at my heart,” she said.

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Neville thought it was lingering effects of COVID, not congestive heart failure, but it turns out she had a less common side effect of COVID — an over-response of the immune system that causes organ inflammation.

“It can happen to anyone. It happened to me. I had no underlying health conditions,” she said.

Neville was eventually flown to Penn, where she was finally successfully treated.

Now back in school, she’s a COVID long hauler, a survivor, with lingering issues.

“I’m a young person that now has congestive heart failure and my life has been completely changed,” she said.

Neville’s congestive heart failure was triggered by COVID, but according to the American Heart Association, 45% of women 20 years and older are living with some form of heart disease — and many don’t know.

Doctors say the best way to lower risk is to not smoke, keep your weight under control with regular exercise and manage your cholesterol and blood pressure.


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Stephanie Stahl