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Out of prolonged coma, British Covid-19 patient begins physical therapy

By Le Nga   May 31, 2020 | 08:20 pm PT
Out of prolonged coma, British Covid-19 patient begins physical therapy
Doctors at the Cho Ray Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, February 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.
Vietnam's most critical Covid-19 patient, comatose for months, has regained consciousness, developed a stronger cough reflex and his right diaphragm is functional again.

In a remarkable turnaround engineered by the unstinting efforts of Vietnamese doctors, the British man has begun to have physical therapy twice a day.

The 43-year-old Vietnam Airlines pilot, "patient 91," has increased muscle strength in all his limbs, the Health Ministry said Sunday. His lungs are getting better, while blood flowing through his ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) system is recorded at 3.7 liters per minute. Doctors are planning to gradually reduce the system’s oxygen flow to 2.5 liters per minute. Previously, while the pilot was still in a severely critical condition, the oxygen flow could go up to 5.7 liters per minute.

ECMO is a technique that pumps blood out of the body and to a heart-lung machine that removes carbon dioxide and sends oxygen-filled blood back.

While his condition is still critical, his ECMO stats have reduced, doctors said. The patient has been taken off dialysis since May 27, and his kidney functions have improved, they added.

Reducing ECMO stats means reducing blood flow speed and oxygenation levels facilitated by the technique, allowing the lungs to play a bigger role in oxygenation. Once the stats have gotten low enough and oxygenation levels are still fine, the patient can be taken off the ECMO.

He is still on blood thinners. Doctors are also feeding him either directly or intravenously. They will focus now on curing his lung infections and making him gradually less reliant on ECMO. They are also looking for suitable donors to give him a lung transplant.

Earlier, the patient had suffered from the cytokine storm syndrome, which happened when his immune system overreacted to the novel coronavirus attacking the body, releasing too many cytokines, damaging his organs. He is also infected with Burkholderia cenocepacia, a type of opportunistic bacteria, which doctors said was difficult to treat.

While he was comatose for more than two months, he was declared free of the novel coronavirus last week and shifted to HCMC’s Cho Ray Hospital for further treatment.

Vietnam has recorded 328 Covid-19 cases so far, 49 of them active.

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