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New Orleans doctors pioneering ventilator alternatives for coronavirus patients

West coast doctors had advised against it, saying it wasn’t as effective or safe.


New Orleans is about to make national headlines again because of the coronavirus, but this time it’s because of a creation by local doctors, that is helping patients with COVID-19.

The overwhelming need for ventilators has been addressed or emphasized by most local and state officials in the past month, but now some doctors treating the sickest patients from this pandemic have created an alternative.

"We have seen in the ICU where I work that it’s actually been very well tolerated, very well accepted by the medical staff as soon as they understand that it’s a very safe alternative to actually intubating someone. It’s been a winner," said Dr. Kyle Happel, a pulmonologist and critical care medicine specialist at LSU Health Sciences Center.

The mechanical ventilator requires intubating. That means sedating a person and putting a tube down into the windpipe. But there are risks of trauma and pneumonia. So a team of LSU health pulmonologists, including Dr. Kyle Happel, explored using non-invasive ventilation. 

West coast doctors had advised against it, saying it wasn’t as effective or safe. But knowing the benefits of using a mask, rather than a tube down the throat in heart and lung disease patients, the LSU Health team decided to make it safe. 

They put a viral filter where the exhaled air comes out, to keep health care workers safe from virus droplets.

 "We are seeing fewer people intubated now as compared to when we first started the COVID epidemic," he said. That also translates into people needing fewer ventilators and getting out of the ICU quicker."

Now they are being asked to pass on this knowledge to hospitals across the state and country. 

"We’re more than happy to share that information both with our sister hospitals, both in the New Orleans area, as well as anywhere in the state of Louisiana, anywhere in the country or the world," said Dr. Happel.

And he has more good news. 

"Something is working. We still have a tremendous population who are at risk for this disease, but we’re not seeing the same influx rate as before. And I really think that it’s the distancing that’s actually making the difference," he said. 

And Dr. Happel said so far they are not seeing a shortage in the supply of the ventilators with the face mask. 

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