UChicago Medicine doctors using helmets to treat COVID-19 patients struggling to breathe

ByAlexis McAdams WLS logo
Saturday, April 11, 2020
Coronavirus Chicago: University of Chicago hospital using helmets instead of ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients
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Doctors at the University of Chicago Medical Center are using a helmet to treat COVID-19 patients who are struggling to breathe.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Doctors at the University of Chicago are using a helmet to treat COVID-19 patients who are struggling to breathe.

The hospital's COVID-19 ICU is using the spacesuit-like helmet as an alternative to a ventilator.

"It is like a hyperbaric oxygen chamber," said UChicago Medicine Dr. Bhakti Patel.

Dr. Patel said the hospital is using the helmet "as a strategy to prevent an intubation or a ventilator" for five patients so far.

Two of the nation's top pulmonary doctors, Dr. Patel and Dr. John Kress, have studied the helmets for years in Chicago. The duo found that the device helps critically ill patients breathe better without being intubated.

The clear plastic FDA-approved helmet surrounds the patient's head and pumps oxygen into their lungs at high pressure.

"The way that it feels is if you go on an airplane and they pressurize the cabin," Dr. Patel said.

The doctors said patients who use the helmet instead of a ventilator spend less time in the ICU and have a better rate of survival.

"They do not have to go to a nursing facility or spend time connected to a ventilator," Dr. Patel said.

The devices can hook up directly to the hospital's oxygen supply.

The helmet is sealed with an airtight collar, so the oxygen does not leak out. A filter on the end also stops the virus from spreading.

The helmet also allows the patient to rest more easily, doctors said.

"The most common response for people with whom it is going to work is because they can now take a breath," Dr. Kress said.

They aren't stuck in bed sedated.

"The patient can have a helmet on and get out of bed and walk," Dr. Kress said.

With a low supply of ventilators, the hospital is training their staff to use the helmets, preparing for what is still to come in the fight against COVID-19.