The saviors of Patient 91

By Huu Khoa, Anh Thu   July 13, 2020 | 04:35 pm GMT+7
For nearly three months, dozens of doctors and nurses in HCMC had pulled out all the stops to bring back a Scottish pilot from the brink of death.
The saviors of Patient 91

Vietnam's most critically ill Covid-19 patient, 43-year-old Stephen Cameron, a Scottish pilot in Ho Chi Minh City, was declared fully recovered from the disease on July 6 and repatriated Sunday. After spending nearly four months in treatment, the longest period for any Covid-19 case in Vietnam, "Patient 91" finally returned home safe and sound.

Doctor Nguyen Thanh Phong, head of the Infectious Diseases Department D at the HCMC Hospital for Tropical Diseases, directly treated Cameron. When he was first admitted on March 18, he had a viral load higher than average, among other factors, clear warning signs of a potentially complicated Covid-19 case. Medical experts throughout Vietnam then banded together in online group chats to monitor his situation should things head south, Phong said.

"The patient went through several critical periods, with complications arising one after another, like the 'cytokine storm,' a Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia syndrome, blood clotting disorder and lung infection. We had to treat him and research medical documents at the same time to apply an appropriate regimen and specialized blood thinners," he said.

The saviors of Patient 91

Nurse Lai Thi Hoai Thu, from the same department, was among a team of 16 nurses who took care of Cameron during his sojourn.

Thu said the patient was "sensitive," so she had to spend hours explaining to him the details of every procedure before he would agree to them. When Cameron was in a coma, the nurse team banded together to pull him through.

The saviors of Patient 91

Doctor Ho Thi Thu Thao is one of four doctors in the Infectious Diseases Department D dubbed the "Covid-19 team." She was the one who was on call, did daily reports and handled any complications "Patient 91" may have faced.

Only on May 22, when the viral load associated with the novel coronavirus completely disappeared from the patient’s charts and he entered a period of restoration, did the doctors and nurses of HCMC Hospital for Tropical Diseases rest. Cameron was then transferred to Cho Ray Hospital to have other conditions treated; he was still in a coma and relied on ventilators to survive at the time.

The saviors of Patient 91

Pham Ngoc Thao, deputy director of Cho Ray Hospital, puts on a protective suit to enter the quarantine zone where the pilot was kept on June 22. She said the medical community at the time was going all out to grab Cameron from death's grasp.

Due to a blood clotting disorder, "Patient 91" had to endure filtration seven times within the 57 days he relied on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) to survive, something Thao remarked as "special, even to the world." Techniques required to change the filters were complicated, so medical personnel and technicians had to be quick and meticulous when changing them, without any room for error.

The saviors of Patient 91

Thao eats a quick lunch at the hospital after a meeting on June 22.

"We didn't care much about outside pressure, we just applied our expertise and did all we could to save the patient. At the time, we only cared about whether we had treated him to the best of our abilities, whether there were better drugs or techniques to improve his situation," Thao said.

The saviors of Patient 91

Doctor Tran Thanh Linh, 46, deputy head of the ICU at Cho Ray Hospital, was in charge of "Patient 91" during his second stage of treatment, welcoming Cameron the day he got transferred from the HCMC Hospital for Tropical Diseases.

When the pilot finally regained consciousness, detached from ECMO and ventilators and started his slow recovery, Linh not only directed medical procedures, but also helped the patient relieve his anxiety. He struck conversations with the patient and did what he could to make him feel at home, making recovery a more enjoyable experience.

The saviors of Patient 91

Nurse Ho Thi Thi, 42, head nurse of the Cho Ray ICU, was on the team that took care of "Patient 91" during his stay.

"Once the patient began to regain consciousness, it means he had escaped death. But the more optimistic everyone got, the more worried we nurses became. If we didn't take care of him well enough, there could have been very severe consequences for him," she said.

The saviors of Patient 91

Nurse Tran Thi Phuong, 54, aided the patient in the most basic of tasks, including changing the sheets and removing his urine container.

"The day we saw him recover, the whole team was overjoyed. Everyone was happy to see him getting better day by day."

The saviors of Patient 91

A team of nurses delegate among themselves who would care for the patient over three daily shifts, with two present in the room at any given time.

The saviors of Patient 91

Doctor Tran Duc Duy, 42, was in charge of rehabilitation and physical therapy. In the morning and afternoon he would help the patient practice breathing on his own and to restore his mobility. Duy said he often took Cameron outside to sunbathe.

"Covid-19 is a new disease, never before seen by the global medical community and yet to have any completely effective treatment regimen. We had to learn on the go during our fight against it. The fact the patient has recovered from the disease has brought us many lessons on treating Covid-19," he remarked.

 
 
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