‘We had a plan’: Doctor describes how he helped US’s first coronavirus patient
Within two weeks, 35-year-old patient was well enough to go home
When Dr George Diaz and his team were informed they might be about to treat America’s first confirmed case of coronavirus, a plan was already in place.
Three weeks earlier, as part of its usual preparedness training, the Providence Regional Medical Centre in Everett, Washington, put staff through a simulation for a pandemic. Hospital staff worked with ambulance teams and other local officials to test who would do what, and how.
In the third week of January, that mock simulation played out for real.
Days earlier, a 35-year-old Asian American man reported flu-like symptoms after returning from a visit to family in Wuhan, China. Staff at the walk-in clinic he visited took nasal swabs, which were sent that same night to the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, while the man was told to go home and self-quarantine.
When Dr Diaz was informed the test had come back positive, he and his team were ready for action.
“It took us about two hours from the time the CDC called, for us to get all our staff and personnel, supplies, and facilities in place to be able to give the [ambulance] folks the green light to come in,” Mr Diaz told TV channel PBS’s Frontline. “We are ready for it.”
He said the man, who has still not been identified, was brought in a so-called “isopod”, designed to protect him and those around him. The ambulance teams transported him to his assigned room in the hospital, north of Seattle.
Dr Diaz said after a couple of days, the man, who had reported a fever and a lack of appetite, started to deteriorate.
“He began developing more shortness of breath. And because of that, we got an X-ray which looked like he had been developing pneumonia. His oxygen levels in his blood were also decreasing,” he said.
Thinking on his feet, Dr Diaz considered Remdesivir, a drug that had been developed to treat Ebola and Marburg. He spoke to the drug’s manufacturer, Gilead Sciences, and the Federal Drug Administration.
“The FDA gave us an approval to try it on a compassionate-use basis, knowing that it had not been approved yet, and that there weren’t even trials available to base that decision on,” he said. “We did use it the next day. He was still having very high fevers… By the next day, his fevers resolved and they stayed gone. He got much better. He felt like he had started beating it.”
Dr Diaz and others have said they do not know if the Remdesivir played any role in the man’s recovery.
This week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said reported the first trial of the drug on Covid-19 had failed. However, Gilead Sciences said the study had been mischaracterised.
Less than two weeks after he was admitted to hospital, the patient had recovered and was well enough to go home.
“I am at home and continuing to get better. I ask that the media please respect my privacy and my desire not to be in the public eye,” he said in a statement.
“I would like to thank the doctors, nurses, and entire team at Providence who cared for me. I appreciate all of the concern expressed by members of the public, and I look forward to returning to my normal life.”