Young Greek Australian doctor Yianni Efstathiadis has shared his terrifying Covid-19 battle, which included being admitted to ICU after his ‘lungs were not working working’ and he struggled to breathe. “Being on the patient’s side it was just, for me, it was panic and fear,” he told ABC 7.30.
Dr Efstathiadis started experiencing COVID-19 symptoms — fever, muscle aches, lethargy — and was tested for the virus. It came back negative.
He underwent a second test a few days later because his symptoms persisted, and it came back positive.
The first had been a false negative, “Which can happen,” Dr Efstathiadis said.
He and his wife, Brit Green, are both doctors at Melbourne’s Northern Hospital Epping. As soon as his positive result came through, they went into isolation. Dr Efstathiadis stayed at their home and Dr Green moved into her mother’s place.
“About five days later, I was getting really sick and very, very lethargic and couldn’t really look after myself at all, coughing a lot,” Dr Efstathiadis told 7.30.
Dr Green, who has not contracted Covid-19, was keeping in contact with him via regular video calls. When he told her he felt dizzy, could not get off the couch or keep any fluids down, she called an ambulance and was taken to hospital.
Dr Green woke up to find a message saying her husband had low oxygen and was being taken to ICU. “It felt like it was happening to another person. I don’t think I’ve been so terrified in my life,” she said.
Dr Anthony Cross, the ICU director at Northern Hospital Epping, said having a colleague in ICU with coronavirus “brings it all home, becomes very personal, because this could be any of us”.
“He was going into what we call respiratory failure. He was requiring very high levels of oxygen,” Dr Cross said.
“His condition continued to deteriorate to that point that we had to intubate him, that is we had to put a breathing tube down his throat, and we had to put him on a mechanical ventilator.
While in ICU, Dr Efstathiadis was given the drug heparin, which has long been administered via injection but is being trialled as an inhaled substance, via a ventilator, in Covid-19 patients.
A global trial of administering heparin via inhalation is being led by Dr Barry Dixon at Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital and Northern Hospital Epping. The trial is aiming to discover whether inhaled heparin limits lung damage in seriously ill COVID-19 patients.
“A successful trial would just provide another therapy that we can use to help them to accelerate their recovery, make them more likely to get off a ventilator sooner, more likely to get home sooner — and all those things prevent them from getting other complications,” Dr Dixon said.
In the course of his research, Dr Dixon believes he may have discovered another use for heparin — as a preventative. “If you use heparin, it actually binds to COVID and once it binds to COVID it’s inactivated, so it can’t bind to us and can’t infect us,” he said.
And he believes there is the potential for widespread usage of the drug to cut down on community transmission. “If you had a formulation of an inhaler like Ventolin but with heparin in it, and they were using that a couple of times a day, and they were inhaling it, it may well inactivate the virus in their airway, in their mouth and in their nose and reduce aerosol spread to the community.”
As he was recovering, Dr Efstathiadis heard about a man in his 30s with coronavirus who died in ICU. “I was so worried that something would go wrong again, I guess, because he only got so sick towards the end of his illness. I’ve been very lucky.”
Dr Efstathiadis said while there is no way to find out exactly how he contracted the virus, it was most likely from one of the positive patients he had treated.
Dr Cross said Dr Efstathiadis’s experience served as a stark warning. “This is a serious disease and it’s there and it could potentially kill you,” he said.
“Yianni is a young guy. Yianni is a guy who knows about infection prevention and yet not only did he get this disease but he got very sick with it.”