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Inside the last line of defense against COVID-19

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — The battle against COVID-19 is fought on multiple fronts, from economics to public health, but what we rarely get to see is a look inside the last line of defense against COVID-19, the ICU at SwedishAmerican.

"How much o2?" Dr. Yaser Zeater says to another nurse before going into an ICU room to help a COVID-19 patient on a ventilator. The nurse answers, and as he walks in, the beeping of machines fill the room.

This is one of dozens of visits Dr. Zeater makes each day to patients in the ICU. Each time he goes in, he grabs a new set of gloves and wears a new gown. Those, along with a specialized helmet, are his new pieces of armor to protect against the virus.

Dr. Yaser Zeater

A small number of patients end up in the care of the Pulmonary Critical Care Doctor. "There's a small percentage, like twenty percent that need to be in the hospital. Then, for those in the hospital, some of them end up in our unit," he says.

"We support them until their body recovers from the virus," he adds. He's seen those who don't recover, too.

"They worsen rapidly, COVID patients worsen rapidly," he adds, while a mask covers his face.

The numbers on the glass door of each room tell a story, some on a ventilator for up to 25 days, all battling COVID-19. A number each patient doesn't know, and each hospital worker does not want to see increase.

"We have young people, 21 on the vent, and we have 90 years old on the vent," he says.

The hospital added ten more ICU beds once the pandemic began, increasing its number from 30 to 40 beds. At one point, the hospital had 24 of 40 ICU patients on ventilators, that number has since dropped.

"Day 25 on the vent," Dr. Zeater says pointing to a hospital room. "We're not sure if this guy is going to make it or not. He's not improving yet, despite everything we have."

Sometimes it's a losing battle.

"If he dies, I hope not, but if he dies, [it's] because of the complication of the virus, not the virus itself," he says pointing to a hospital room, adding that the virus is likely already out of the patient's body. "We're trying to clean up after the virus, it's a problem."

It's also a changing battle.

"In one months or two months, the whole practice guidelines changed," he says, adjusting his helmet to create the seal it needs on his jaw line. "Which put a lot of burden on staff, [and] hospital supplies."

The changes in the plan also come with changes in treatment, the hospital is now using remdesivir, an experimental drug that seems to be working to fight COVID-19. So far, the hospital only received enough from the federal government to treat a few patients.

"We have to use it wisely, in a way," he says, adding that only patients on ventilators will receive it. "So, we use it for the ones who would not survive without it."

Success stories do come out of the ICU at Swedes, patients like Tasha. After more than a month at SwedishAmerican, she is recovering.

"She's off the ventilator, she's making progress," said Lynn Williams, Tasha's sister-in-law, and the Adult Inpatient Director at SwedishAmerican. "She's got a long journey ahead strengthening wise. "

Other patients are also wining the battle against COVID-19, Dr. Zeater points out a young guy who had no prior medical conditions. "He was on the vent for 21 days," he says. "He's extubated now. He's confused, of course, but he's just on oxygen through his nose."

These are just some of the stories from inside the ICU at SwedishAmerican and in our community. Swedes does have a designated COVID-19 floor, it was retrofitted on the tenth floor at the hospital. Patients who need hospitalization, but not ICU care, go there first. Then, if their conditions worsen, they go to the ICU. Dr. Zeater says the number of COVID-19 patients on the COVID-19 floor, and in the ICU are both dropping.

James Stratton

James Stratton is the Evening Anchor at 13 WREX and reports for 13 Investigates He joined the team in August, 2018 after working at KWQC TV-6 in Davenport Iowa. His work in Illinois and Iowa has been awarded in both states, along with Edward R. Murrow and Emmy Awards at 13 WREX.

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