Posted on: March 26, 2020 at 3:14 pm

The novel coronavirus has put a massive strain on the global healthcare system. Hospitals and healthcare facilities around the world are struggling to keep up with the influx of patients coming through their doors, and as the pandemic continues to escalate, hospitals are running low on crucial supplies.

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One of the most necessary items is the ventilator. For COVID patients in critical condition, this machine is the only thing keeping them alive, and they are in dangerously low supply across the entire globe.

In an effort to prepare his hospital and avoid disaster, one doctor in Ontario, Canada, managed to double his hospital’s ventilator capacity with some ingenious engineering.

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Read: The Workers Who Face the Greatest Coronavirus Risk

An “Evil Genius”

Dr. Allan Gauthier is an anesthetist with a Ph.D. in respiratory mechanics working in a rural hospital in Perth, Ontario, just west of Ottawa. 

After hearing several health experts predict that many countries, including the U.S. and Canada, will not have nearly enough ventilators to meet demand, Gauthier decided he needed to find a way to increase his hospital’s capacity to prepare for the potential onslaught of patients.

Gauthier rigged one of the hospital ventilators so that he could run two hoses from one machine, doubling its power. The process took him just ten minutes [1].

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He got the idea from a theory developed by American doctors Greg Neyman and Charlene Babcock. The method was used successfully once before in 2017, during the aftermath of the Root 91 Harvest Music Festival mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Gauthier, however, has said he doesn’t want any credit, and that he is only doing what is necessary to ensure he and the rest of the staff have the resources to deal with what’s to come.

“A lot of work is being done by pretty much everyone,” he said [1].

Read: Almost half of coronavirus patients have digestive symptoms, study finds

What is a Ventilator, and Why is it so Important?

A ventilator is a specially-designed machine that provides oxygen for patients who are unable to breathe on their own. It does this by pumping air into their lungs through a tube that has been carefully inserted into the windpipes [3].

The coronavirus causes inflammation in the patient’s lungs. When the lungs become full of fluid and inflammatory cells, they are unable to get enough oxygen to the bloodstream. This reduces the body’s ability to take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide, which is usually the cause of death [4].

For this reason, ventilators are often the only way to keep a critically-ill coronavirus patient alive [3].

The Ventilator Shortage in the United States

Unfortunately, the United States is severely under-equipped to handle the number of patients who will need these life-saving devices in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. 

There are currently 170 thousand ventilators available across the country, but in a severe pandemic scenario such as this, the US Department of Health and Public Services estimates that we will need close to 742 thousand [2].

The Pentagon has pledged to provide two thousand ventilators to the country’s coronavirus effort, but this is nowhere near the amount that will be required [5]. 

With a lack of financial resources, contracts, and fast-tracked approval from the FDA, manufacturers of these machines are struggling to ramp-up production. What’s more, even if those hurdles can be solved rapidly, it could still take up to eleven months before those ventilators are available [6].

Read: No, You Do Not Need Face Masks To Prevent Coronavirus—They Might Even Increase Your Infection Risk

How Has This Affected Other Countries Around The World

We have not yet reached the peak of the pandemic in the United States, but healthcare professionals are already incredibly concerned about how we will be able to handle what’s to come.

The healthcare system in other countries, like Italy, has been so overwhelmed, that doctors have been forced to make the brutal decision of which patients receive ventilator treatment and which do not, effectively deciding who lives and who dies [7].

If the United States can’t get on top of this outbreak, doctors may be forced to make similar decisions, something that no human being should ever have to do.

Read: Pictures: COVID-19 Patients Struggle to Stay in Contact with Family or Even Say Goodbye Before Dying

How Can You Help?

This pandemic is essentially our generation’s World War, and while the threat of Nazis and the coronavirus are extremely different, they are very similar in two ways: they are both massive global struggles, and they both require a collective effort to be fought and won.

For this reason, it is important that every citizen, whether they are healthy or not, follow the guidelines and restrictions being given by our health officials and governments. It is imperative that we slow down the spread of the virus to a rate that is manageable by our healthcare system, or else we risk experiencing a death toll like that in Italy.

This is referred to as “flattening the curve”. The curve is an epidemiological term for the projected number of new cases over a period of time. By flattening this curve, we stagger the number of cases over a longer period of time, which means that patients can receive proper care, effectively lowering the mortality rate [8].

“The whole goal of everything right now should be to cut transmission and to contain the virus as good as possible because the health systems globally cannot cope with a fast or quick or strong influx of many cases at one moment in time,” said WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier [8].

In order to achieve this, the United Nations has asked people around the world to wash their hands regularly, avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth, maintain social distancing, practice respiratory hygiene and seek medical care if they have a fever, cough or any difficulty breathing [8].

Social isolation is challenging- physically, mentally, and emotionally- and Americans are feeling the toll, but as with other threats to public safety that have occurred throughout this country’s history, if we can rally together as a nation, we can get through this trying time victorious.

Keep Reading: Former CDC Chief: Vitamin D May Reduce The Risk Of Coronavirus Infection

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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