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A Look At How Ventilators Save Lives of Patients with COVID-19

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DES MOINES, Iowa  --  In a press conference about COVID-19 Wednesday, Governor Kim Reynolds said hospitals in Iowa are in short supply of ventilators. She said right now the state has 280 ventilators available and is ordering more. Local doctors say ventilators will save the lives of patients with severe cases of COVID-19.

“COVID-19 causes respiratory failure, it causes injury to the lung that makes the lung's ability to make gas in its normal fashion, impaired. And so, what a ventilator does is provides support in a different fashion to try to improve gas exchange or to facilitate getting oxygen into the body and carbon dioxide out of the body when the lungs can’t do it on their own,” MercyOne Pulmonologist and Intensivist Dr. Blair Westerly said.

Basically, it lets the lungs rest while replacing the function of the lungs. Doctors at MercyOne said they are taking extra precautions with COVID-19 patients and not using any form of non-evasive oxygen support. For example, if the seal from an oxygen mask was broken, doctors say there is potential for aerosolization of the virus. There is also a filter attached to the ventilator to catch viral particles. Doctors said patients with COVID-19 may need these ventilators for a couple weeks.

“If you look across the globe, for those who are ending up in intensive care units and on ventilators, the vast majority of them are requiring many days and up to a couple weeks of mechanical ventilation support to get through their infection,” Dr. Westerly said.

Governor Reynolds also said the state is working with health care providers to convert anesthesia machines into ventilators.

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