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European COVID-19 insights: Try helmet CPAP


Watch for hypercoagulation

Thromboembolic complications are a common feature in COVID-19 disease.

“I’ve had occasion to see the autopsy results in more than 100 patients. It’s devastating to see the number of thromboses and microthromboses in the lungs, the liver, the kidney, and in the brain,” Dr. Gattinoni said.

“COVID-19 is a serial killer, no doubt,” Dr. Pelosi agreed. “He has no mercy for anyone. And he has two bullets: The first one is for the lung, the second is on the vascular side.”

Dr. Putensen is aggressive in utilizing prophylactic high-dose anticoagulation with heparin. He carefully monitors levels of fibrinogen, Factors V and VIII, and d-dimers. In the setting of COVID-19, he has found thromboelastography to be more reliable than partial thromboplastin time in guiding heparin titration.


Panelists agreed that pronation is an especially valuable means of enhancing oxygenation in patients with Type H disease. Dr. Putensen tries for more than 16 hours per day. Dr. Foti is preparing a study of the impact of pronation in 50 awake, nonintubated patients, most of whom were on helmet CPAP. Seven of them couldn’t tolerate pronation for even an hour at a time; for the others, the median duration was 3.5 hours at a time.

“We saw a dramatic improvement, a nearly doubling in the PaO2/FiO2 ratio,” Dr. Foti said.

The helmet CPAP study was done outside of the ICU because, in March 2020, the Milan hospital was utterly overwhelmed by COVID-19. The university hospital ordinarily has 25 ICU beds. This was expanded to 100 ICU beds in an effort to meet the emergency, but that still wasn’t sufficient. Indeed, COVID-19 patients occupied 600 of the hospital’s 650 beds. Physicians were forced to do something formerly unthinkable: triage patients for intubation and mechanical ventilation based upon age, comorbidities, and survival prospects.

“We felt schizophrenic. I completely agree with Luciano’s idea to intubate early when we cannot control the respiratory drive that’s due to the disease. But we couldn’t do it because we had too many patients. So we had to triage,” Dr. Foti recalled, breaking off with a sob as other panelists wiped away their own tears during the webcast.

Respiratory physical therapy

Dr. Pelosi said he believes that optimal care of patients with COVID-19 disease requires a major commitment to physical therapy. He strongly recommends having thoughtfully designed separate written protocols in place for respiratory physiotherapy during mechanical ventilation, weaning, and postextubation. COVID-19 patients typically require 7-10 days of assisted ventilation before weaning, and weaning is a protracted process as well.

“I like to say COVID-19 always requires patience. You have to be very, very patient with this disease,” he emphasized. “These patients have a long and difficult weaning. If the patient isn’t improving during weaning, look at two issues: superinfection and thrombembolism, macro and micro.” The physical therapy measures routinely utilized at his hospital during mechanical ventilation include elevation of the bed head greater than 30 degrees, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, subglottic secretion suctioning, tracheal and oral aspiration, and cough assistance. Separate physical therapy menus are used during before and after extubation.

Dr. Gattinoni offered a final word: “We can do almost nothing with this disease. We try our best to keep the patient alive. What we can do is avoid excessive ventilation of the patient. Applying the typical treatment of ARDS in atypical [Type L] ARDS does not make sense and may be extremely harmful.”


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