COVID Patient, 23, Suffers Mini Stroke, Warns Coronavirus 'No Joke'

An Arizona athlete's plea for people to take COVID-19 seriously has gone viral after he suffered a "mini-stroke" related to his virus diagnosis.

Riley Behrens, 23, has been documenting his experience on social media since testing positive on November 25, stressing he had been healthy before contracting the disease and was largely adhering to social distancing and face covering guidelines.

Initially, Behrens said symptoms were mild and he was only experiencing "occasional headaches and on/off chest tightness." That soon changed. Within three days, he was admitted to hospital after having trouble breathing, dizziness and vision loss.

"COVID-19 is no joke. It's a life-threatening virus that affects everyone so differently that there's no way to predict how your body will respond," Behrens warned.

In a Twitter thread that has now attracted more than 21,000 shares and 1,300 replies, Behrens said he had been diagnosed as having a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), which is described by the Mayo Clinic as a brief period of symptoms similar to a stroke.

Earlier today, I was diagnosed as having suffered a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), or what's commonly known as a mini-stroke. I'm 23 years old and I just had a stroke due to Covid-19 complications.

Not taking this pandemic seriously? Keep reading.

— Riley Behrens (@RileyBehrens) November 30, 2020

Such an attack is caused by a clot that blocks blood supply to a part of the brain, and while they do not result in permanent damage it can be a warning sign.

"About one in three people who has a transient ischemic attack will eventually have a stroke, with about half occurring within a year after the transient ischemic attack," the U.S. non-profit medical center explains in a fact-sheet on its website.

Behrens said in the thread he had likely caught the respiratory disease from a person he came into contact with, who was at a wedding he did not personally attend.

He said before COVID he could play an 80-minute rugby game with mild-to-moderate exhaustion, but now gets "short of breath just walking down the hall." According to Behrens, doctors have said his sporting abilities may never be the same.

"I'm being told I will likely never return to contact sports because of lasting lung and brain damage. The risk for a second stroke will always be there, and another head injury could be fatal," he wrote in the Twitter thread on Sunday.

"My recovery will involve weeks, if not months of both physical and occupational therapy as well as continuous follow-up with my neurologist to determine lasting effects and damage. This is not what anyone should have to go through."

Behrens told Newsweek today that he remains "very weak and dizzy" when moving and said walking in a straight line remains difficult due to the disorientation.

He said the response to the Twitter thread had been "incredible" and that it was initially intended as a way to urge people in his inner circle to "wake up and pay attention."

"It's not a joke, despite what many think. I will likely never play sports again and I grew up an athlete. That's by far the most devastating part of this. The rest can be worked on, walking, grip strength, etc., but sports were everything to me," he told Newsweek.

On its website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reiterated its health advice as cases, hospitalizations and deaths surge across the country.

The agency advisory says: "As cold weather moves in, people spend more time indoors and the holidays approach, take steps to slow the spread of COVID-19.

It added: "Wear a mask, stay at least six feet apart, avoid crowds, and wash your hands often. The more steps you take, the more you are protected against COVID-19."

The U.S. has the most COVID cases in the world, so far recording more than 13 million infections and over 260,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The state of Arizona has logged 325,995 cases and 6,634 deaths at time of writing.

Ultimately, Behrens urged everyone to follow health advice. "I never thought that I would be affected this way, but here we are," he tweeted. "Don't let yourself be next."

COVID-19 patient
A prone team, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), prepares to turn a COVID-19 patient onto his stomach in a Stamford Hospital intensive care unit (ICU), on April 24, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. John Moore/Getty