UF launches clinical trial to address life-threatening blood clots in COVID patients

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Debbie Bundy, 59, was released from Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville just after Thanksgiving. The energetic dance instructor was still positive for COVID-19, but her oxygen levels improved. It’s the blood clots in her lungs -- forcing a dry cough -- worrying her now.

“I’m taking blood thinners for the blood clots in my lungs, which are called pulmonary embolisms,” Bundy said. “They are still impeding my oxygen flow and make my heart race whenever I cough or get up.”

George N. Williams, 73, is a retired Air Force major general. His family said he narrowly recovered from COVID-19 after doctors at Mayo Clinic were able to successfully remove a blood clot in his heart. Doctors had to amputate his leg after treatments aimed at dissolving the clot in his leg did not work.

“It just happened so quickly,” said his son, Ryan Williams. “It was just so sad to think of my dad without his leg.”

Dr. Dominick Angiolillo is leading a clinical trial at UF Health Jacksonville to find treatment for patients recovering from COVID-19 at home. Angiolillo said patients in and out of the hospital must be treated early and aggressively for potential blood clotting.

“You take patients who are extremely sick from a respiratory standpoint, and on top of that, you add the clotting disorder. This obviously is associated with a very, very high mortality,” Angiolillo said. “Heart attacks, strokes and essentially clots in any part of the body.”

Researchers at UC San Diego Health published a study in late November that found 20% of COVID-19 patients who participated in their study had clots in their veins. The rate increased to 31% among patients in the intensive care unit. Researchers there also found blood clots increased the risk of death by 74%.

Angiolillo said treating COVID-19 patients during hospitalization with blood-thinning medications has become standard of care. The focus of UF Health’s study is how to treat COVID-positive patients who are not under the constant care of a medical team.

“The question now becomes: We’ve implemented these strategies as standard-of-care in hospitalized patients. What do we do about patients who are sick, but not sick enough to be hospitalized?” Angiolillo asked. “The vast majority of patients affected by COVID-19 are not hospitalized -- they are at home.”

Researchers are looking for 7,000 participants who have tested positive for COVID-19. Participants will be given one of four therapies, which can range from a placebo to baby aspirin, or one of two oral anticoagulant drugs. The patient will not know which they have received.

“We believe the risks are minimal,” Angiolillo said. “And again, the only way to advance care in a setting like this is participating in a clinical trial.”

Those interested in participating in the clinical trial can contact Andrea Goosen with UF Health Cardiology research at 904-244-5617 or andrea.goosen@jax.ufl.edu.

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