HACKENSACK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Some doctors in our area are seeing an alarming number of very sick people showing up to the Emergency Room with various illnesses because of a delay in care.

The fear of COVID-19 had some waiting it out at home. They say this can turn an otherwise easy to treat issue deadly, CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported Thursday.

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An emotional Miguel Roman is grateful to be alive. He had been sick for three weeks before dialing 911 two separate times.

“I’m swelling and I’m out of breath,” Roman said on one of the calls.

But when paramedics twice came to his home in Newark, he said they took his vitals, and told him everything looked OK.

“They couldn’t take me to any hospital because of COVID-19,” Roman said.

This was around the time COVID-19 cases peaked.


Days later, a walk-in medical center directed him to drive straight to Hackensack University Medical Center‘s ER.

“When Miguel came in, he was very sick,” said Dr. Lucy Safi, director of interventional echo at Hackensack.

It turns out, Roman had a leaky heart valve and needed a repair.

“If he would’ve waited longer he would’ve had a very different outcome,” Dr. Safi said.

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Safi, Roman’s cardiologist, said she’s now seeing lots of patients having heart attacks at home, likely due to being worried about contracting COVID-19 at the hospital.

“The technology that we have today, seeing these late complications is rare. But we’ve been seeing them,” Dr. Safi said.

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“I’ve seen several patients come in with a perforated colon, sepsis, septic shock, very sick,” added general surgeon Dr. Stephen Pereira.

Pereira said there’s a spike in patients with easily treatable conditions like diverticulitis — an infection of the colon — and appendicitis because they are waiting too long to come in.

“Coded in the recovery room. It took heroic efforts to save him. Eventually he did do well and went home, but a 60-year-old man with diverticulitis, you don’t normally see that happen,” Dr. Pereira said.

Pereira said he had never seen anyone die from appendicitis until recently, after a woman who waited five days came in in septic shock. Her appendix burst.

“If she had come in right away she would’ve had an appendectomy and gone home that same day. It’s really tragic,” he said.

Doctors are reminding people it is safe to come in.

“Stop delaying, because the likelihood of getting the virus is very low,” interventional cardiologist Dr. George Stoupakis said.

Organ transplants have also resumed, but people coming in to donate kidneys, for example, living donations, are down.

“We hope that picks up again now that our hospitals are safe,” said Dr. Michael Goldstein, Hackensack’s director of abdominal organ transplant.

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Doctors say whether it’s an emergency or a cancer screening, don’t put it off any longer. Even a day could mean the difference between life and death.