Underlying conditions may have complicated Colin Powell’s COVID-19 fight

Reporter: Amy Oshier Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:

Colin Powell was fully vaccinated against COVID-19 but had to fight an uphill battle due to underlying conditions. His death highlights the dangers of COVID-19 for people with weakened immunes systems.

While there aren’t any specifics on Powell’s case, you can imagine that he received top-notch care at Walter Reed Medical Center. But his body was compromised already, due in large part to a blood cancer called multiple myeloma.

Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that attacks the system meant to protect the body from sickness. A potentially deadly mix when coupled with COVID-19.

Tadeu Ambros, an oncologist and hematologist with Florida Cancer Specialists said, “it is a bad diagnosis because the immune system is already compromised and will not fight as a normal immune system would. And that’s true to every infection and that includes COVID.”

Found in white blood cells, or plasma, cancerous cells start producing abnormal antibodies. As the disease progresses, patients may have more frequent infections, bone problems, reduced kidney function and anemia. All conditions that deplete the body’s ability to fight. It’s why doctors stress the importance of vaccinations.

“Not only the two doses that have been approved but also the third booster dose which we have been recommending because of recent studies showing that only two RNA vaccines might not be sufficient to protect you from COVID. And this is particularly important with a patient with multiple myeloma, on treatment, or just with multiple myeloma,” said Dr. Ambros.

At 84-years-old the former secretary of state had several multiple myeloma risk factors. Most patients are in their 60’sor older. Men are more likely to have it than women and so are African Americans. It is not public knowledge when Powell was diagnosed or what treatment he underwent, but options and outcomes have greatly improved over the years.

“So the treatment is a combination of multiple different agents, they are not really chemotherapy. But it’s a combination of pills, injections, and intravenous medications that are actually highly effective nowadays, it’s amazing how this field has advanced in the last 5 or 10 years, the prognosis has become much, much better because of that,” said Dr. Ambros.

Ultimately, the combination of COVID-19 and co-morbidities were too much for Colin Powell to defeat.

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