LeConte Medical Center Team Launches a Full-Scale Attack on COVID-19
When COVID-19 patient Jason Stapleton, 41, arrived at LeConte Medical Center’s emergency department, he didn’t know he would soon be unconscious and fighting for his life.
“As far as COVID-19 goes, a lot of people think it’s a joke,” Jason says. “I’m here to tell you it’s real.”
Jason came to the hospital because he thought his dizziness was the result of dehydration related to the virus. He got there just in time.
“His oxygen demands were very high,” says Paul Swafford, DO, an internist and hospitalist at LeConte Medical Center. “We had to put him on a ventilator within the first 24 hours.”
Dr. Swafford is part of a hospital medical team that vigilantly works through each COVID-19 case from admission to discharge. The team includes board-certified pulmonologists and critical care doctors who are on-site seven days a week.
“We all work together in a multidisciplinary approach to essentially provide the same level of care you would have at any hospital in Knoxville,” Dr. Swafford says.
A United Front
COVID-19 caused Jason’s body to turn on an abnormal blood-clotting cascade, a complication common in hospitalized patients who have the virus. His doctors knew they needed to watch for it and were prepared when it happened.
Hospital laboratory testing and imaging revealed the virus was also attacking Jason’s heart muscle, sending him into heart failure from viral cardiomyopathy. LeConte Medical Center’s on-site cardiology team immediately launched a counterattack.
The heart failure impacted Jason’s kidneys and he went into renal failure. LeConte’s on-site nephrology team quickly went to work, providing state-of-the-art dialysis in the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU).
Jason’s lung inflammation turned into acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). LeConte’s pulmonary critical care intensivist and hospital medicine team delivered aggressive treatment.
Each morning while Jason was in the ICU, Dr. Swafford called Angela Stapleton with an update on her husband’s condition. Several times during the day she called the hospital for the latest information from nurses.
“In the beginning, I felt like I was in the middle of a war, and I felt like we went into battle together,” Angela says. “They genuinely cared about us.”
As the virus continued to tear through Jason’s body, even moving made breathing dangerously difficult. He was placed in a mechanical bed that could rotate him to different positions and optimize the oxygen available in his lungs.
Jason’s condition became so critical that the visitation policy for his family was switched to “end-of- life care,” meaning both his wife and daughter could visit him at once. Suited up in protective gear, Angela wondered if she was seeing her husband alive for the last time.
“It was horrible,” Angela says, her voice choked with emotion, “because we didn’t know what was going to happen.”
LeConte Medical Center is participating in a clinical trial to treat certain COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma transfusions. After two units of the treatment, Jason’s condition finally began to improve.
“Had he not received this convalescent plasma,” Dr. Swafford says, “despite our best efforts, I believe he would not have survived.”
When Jason regained consciousness he had no memory of anything he had been through, and his brush with death had to be explained to him several times.
Physical therapists at LeConte Medical Center helped Jason regain enough strength to go home. When he was discharged, he had been a patient at the hospital for a total of 31 days.
At his discharge, LeConte staff lined the halls to cheer him on and wish him luck in his recovery.
Victory Over the Virus
“The staff was amazing,” Jason says.
“It was unreal how kind they were,” Angela says.
It was an emotional moment as Dr. Swafford helped his patient into the car and offered a long-awaited farewell.
“The most rewarding part of being a physician is being able to see a patient get better and go home,” Dr. Swafford says. “It gives us the strength to go back in and continue the fight.”
For information about LeConte Medical Center’s treatment and safety measures in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, visit CovenantHealth.com/coronavirus.