Dr. Mary Fowkes, a neuropathologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan whose autopsies of COVID-19 victims early in the pandemic discovered serious damage in multiple organs — a finding that led to the successful use of higher doses of blood thinners to treat patients — died Nov. 15 at her home in Katonah, New York, in Westchester County. She was 66.
Her daughter, Jackie Treatman, said the cause was a heart attack.
When Fowkes (rhymes with “pokes”) and her team began their autopsies, little was known about the novel Coronavirus, which was believed to be largely a respiratory disease. The first few dozen autopsies revealed that COVID-19 affected the lungs and other vital organs and that the virus probably traveled through the body in the endothelial cells, which line the interior of blood vessels.
“We saw very small and very microscopic blood clots in the lungs, the heart, the liver — and significant blood clots in the brain,” Fowkes said in an interview on the CBS News program “60 Minutes” for a segment, broadcast Nov. 22, on the long-term effects of COVID-19. She had been interviewed by correspondent Anderson Cooper on Oct. 30, a little more than two weeks before her death.
The clots in the brain suggested that there had been strokes, she told Cooper.
Cooper asked if she had expected to see the breadth of damage in so many organs.
“No, not at all,” Fowkes said. “Nobody’s seen it like this.”
Fowkes “had a curious scientific mind and an uncompromising attitude to doing as many autopsies as possible to produce something that was unique,” Carlos Cordon-Cardo, chairman of the department of pathology, molecular and cell-based medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said in a phone interview.
Cordon-Cardo said that the findings from the autopsies of COVID patients done by Fowkes’ team had led to an aggressive increase in the use of blood thinners, resulting in a marked improvement in the health of some patients. The medications were adjusted to account for the elevated response to COVID by patients’ immune systems, he said.