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“We’ve treated approximately 130 patients since we began this mission, and have discharged more than 60 of them … about half of the patients treated have been COVID-19 patients,” Lt. Marycate Walsh, deputy public affairs officer, U.S. Second Fleet, told Warrior in a statement.
The recoveries are taking place alongside a continued influx of new patients from New York City area hospitals. Some of the arriving patients, Walsh added, are “high-acuity” ICU patients.
Treatment methods for COVID-19 can vary according to severity, yet there are a few general parameters followed by ICU doctors, including the use of a ventilator machine, some anti-viral medications and the use of a specialized technical device called ECMO–or Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation–according to an April 6 essay in “The Lancet” medical journal. The essay is called ‘Understanding pathways to death in patients with COVID-19.”
ECMO, the essay states, “can control gas exchange for weeks,” keeping patients alive who might otherwise die from oxygen deprivation. ECMO was used with great success during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to, in some cases, transport oxygen-deprived critical patients injured in war. They often traveled on what the U.S. military services call Critical Care Air Transport, or CCAT aircraft configurations, which essentially functioned as a mini-flying hospital. ECMO, military doctors explained, was used during these flights to keep patients breathing. Many were transported to Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany. The ECMO procedures were of critical value during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, given that many soldiers suffered lung injuries following IED blasts. The procedure is now proving critical in saving lives of COVID-19-afflicted patients, a senior ICU doctor now treating patients in the Northern Virginia area told Warrior.
While, as the Lancet essay states, “respiratory failure is obviously the main cause” of death with COVID-19 patients, some patients can die from “shock and multiple organ failure” caused by the virus. Despite these factors, experts concede that many nuances particular to COVID-19 are not yet fully understood. “The real course of the disease is not yet well described,” the essay states.
For this reason, the successful recovery of some of the most severe COVID-19 cases has emerged from patients hanging delicately and precariously upon the at times thin boundary between life and death.