DOCTORS treating COVID-19 patients at Warrington Hospital have made a major discovery, that appears to be cutting death rates and improving chances of a speedy recovery from the lethal virus.
Medics have adapted a breathing aid device known as “black boxes” for use on patients seriously ill with the coronavirus. The “black boxes” were designed for use on people suffering from a sleep disorder called apnoea, a condition which can cause a person to stop breathing while asleep. Medical teams at the hospital told Sky News that by treating COVID-19 patients early with this breathing aid, there was less need to use the more intrusive and invasive ventilators, which require a pipe to be inserted down the throat.
Dr Mark Forrest told Sky News: “Often we were seeing positive reaction within 15 minutes.”
And Dr Mithun Murthy believes that “black boxes” had already saved the lives of hundreds of patients.
He said: “We really believed it would work. It was a case of having it confirmed.”
Moreover, recovery rates have been much faster than has been the case with ventilators.
Clinicians said they realised that they faced an uphill struggle to cope with the expected influx of patients suffering from serious respiratory problems and requiring ventilation of their lungs.
The hospital had only 12 intensive therapy unit (ITU) ventilators, but were able to boost their numbers by re-servicing an additional five from an older generation, as well as recommissioning seven more from their critical care support and using their anaesthetic machines.
Despite the increase in capacity, medical teams knew that this would still leave them short and they would have to come up with alternative solutions.
Doctors were also aware that patients who had to be put on ventilators had a poor recovery rate.
In some cases a patient had only a 50-50 chance of recovering from the invasive treatment.
Their findings were in line with the experiences of other doctors treating seriously ill COVID-19 patients in other parts of the world.
Dr Mark Forrest said: “We watched very closely what was happening in other countries in particular Italy and learned from them.”
As a result the team made an early decision to use CPAP machines (continuous positive airway pressure) rather than ventilators.
The CPAP works by pumping oxygen under constant pressure into the lungs thorough a close-fitted face mask.
The breathing aid keeps the airways continuously open in those people who are still able to breathe on their own but stops the lungs from collapsing.
However, the hospital had only six of these devices to hand and decided they could not wait for the new CPAP devices being developed by Mercedes Formula 1 and University College London to come on line.
Dr Forrest told Sky News: “This seemed months away and we needed the machines now.”
It was at this point that the clinicians at Warrington Hospital had their “eureka moment”.
A team from the respiratory department led by Dr Mithun Murthy and consultant Saagar J Patel realised that they could turn their simple “black boxes” that they used to treat apnoea, into CPAP machines through a simple adaptation.
The “black boxes”, which are built on the same premise as a CPAP machine, were modified by fitting them with superior masks and linking them up to oxygen.
They were then tested on members of staff, before being used on patients suffering from COVID-19.
Staff in the ICU found that patients stabilised quickly and avoided the need for ventilation, if treated immediately with the modified “black boxes” on arrival in the intensive care ward.