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How do ventilators help COVID-19 patients

Posted at 10:04 PM, Apr 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-11 01:04:23-04

Ventilators are a necessity for patients battling COVID-19. While not every patient needs one, those who do cannot survive without it.

That is why ventilators are on the top of the list of needed medical supplies at Arizona hospitals. It is also a top item state leaders want to secure for newly reopened St. Luke Medical Center in order to prepare for a possible surge in cases.

“There’s by no means it’s not a guarantee that you’re going to survive, but if you need a ventilator and you don’t get one, you’re for sure not going to survive,” said Natalie Strand, M.D.

As a doctor at Mayo Clinic in the Valley, Dr. Strand told ABC15 that she has not seen the same strain on Arizona resources like what is happening in New York and Louisiana. However, it is not only about how many ventilators hospitals have.

Dr. Strand explains, “it's also the turnaround between patients, so that you don't have to make the decision of who gets one and who doesn't."

Normally patients need ventilators only for a few hours during surgeries. The patients battling COVID-19 can spend weeks on it. The longer ventilators are in use, the faster hospitals can run out of their supply.

COVID-19 patients must have ventilators available. The patients that reach that level of severity must have the machine to breathe for them because of how the illness attacks the body.

“You know most people think of your lungs as kind of air filling balloons,” Dr. Strand explained. “But, really it’s a better image to think of a sponge and if you think of a sponge soaked in water that’s kind of what pneumonia does to your lungs.”

At that point, the patient will need a ventilator to regulate their breathing and force the lungs to function. Doctors place a breathing tube down the trachea below the vocal cords and creates a seal there to move oxygen in and out of the lungs. These machines control how many breaths the patient takes per minute, how big those breaths are, and how much pressure is there.

While they are typically association with end-of-life care, Dr. Strand said that is not the use of ventilators on COVID-19 patients.

“Certainly people go on them with the goal of getting off afterwards. Just kind of as a bridge getting us through the worst part of the infection.”

This is a precise procedure, but one that several medical professionals have been trained to complete. Dr. Strand tells ABC15 that there are plans in place to utilize doctors of all specialties to preform this procedure if needed.

Dr. Strand said she also feels supported right now by the medical community here in the Valley.

“You know it’s been really amazing, I think, that the healthcare community has banded together. You know this is what we do, we’re proud to be health care workers. There’s a lot of collaboration across multiple sites. People are sharing information, sharing techniques. It’s been very positive on that standpoint.”

The other positive is the data showing the peak in Arizona may not be as high as originally projected. Dr. Strand credits physical distancing.

“I’m really appreciative of everyone in the community that has made incredible personal sacrifices to help us have adequate health care resources and take care of the patient that do need to come into the hospital. So, I think in general, I am happy with what we have been able to accomplish in Arizona.”