First COVID-19 death in US caused by a ruptured heart

The first known death from COVID-19 in the United States was caused by a ventricular rupture.  

Patricia Dowd, a 57-year-old woman from California in relatively good health, complained of flu-like symptoms prior to hear death. She died on Feb. 6, weeks before what was previously thought to be the country’s first COVID-19-related death.  

On April 26, the San Francisco Chronicle shared Dowd’s autopsy report—available here as a PDF—with its readers. The official cause of her death, per the document, is “acute hemopericardium due to rupture of left ventricle due to transmural myocardial ischemia (infarction) with a minor component of myocarditis due to COVID-19 infection.”

The San Francisco Chronicle noted that Dowd’s tissue was stored because it could not be tested at the time of the autopsy.

“What is unusual about the autopsy findings is that the heart is normal size and shape and has no cholesterol in the coronary arteries, and yet the heart muscle is damaged and there is a rupture,” Judy Melinek, MD, a forensic pathologist not involved in the autopsy, told Newsweek in an interview. “Typically when you see hearts that rupture it is in the setting of high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Ms. Dowd was overweight, but she didn't have either.”

Melinek also noted that researchers should study other death certificates from the area, searching for additional deaths that could be related to COVID-19.