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Ascension Via Christi is increasing use of oxygen therapy for COVID-19 patients

Coronavirus in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan (KSNW) – A Wichita hospital uses a tool to help COVID patients recover, and doctors say it is saving lives and helping to free up space in the ICU.

At Ascension Via Christi, three different machines are giving oxygen support to patients:

  • A ventilator that relies on a tube inserted into the patient’s mouth
  • A less invasive ventilator that uses a mask that goes over your nose and mouth
  • A machine that provide heated, high-flow oxygen therapy through a nasal cannula, allowing patients to talk and eat while recovering

Ascension Via Christi said doctors choose which machine best suits each COVID case but rely on the least invasive option more than ever.

“The whole thing is to help your body recover from this virus,” said Jeff Suderman, a lead registered respiratory therapist with Ascension Via Christi.

Time is what Suderman said is the most important part of recovering from COVID-19. He says the heated, high-flow oxygen therapy is giving people time to recover. The goal is to flush out CO2 in the body and give patients oxygen to ease breathing.

“What we are finding is that if we keep them on this, we help to protect the lungs by keeping them from taking too big of breath like we would with non-invasive ventilation,” Suderman said.

He said the other devices that provide oxygen support are more invasive and can damage a patient’s lungs. The oxygen therapy helps doctors individualize the treatment for each COVID-19 patient.

“If you’re fine on this, and your saturations are low, but you look like you’re breathing comfortably, we’re not going to put you on a ventilator,” Suderman said. “We’re going to let you hopefully get better using heat at high force. So that’s what we’ve learned over time.”

Around 20 new machines have been ordered. Suderman said they have become an important tool for COVID recoveries.

“Focusing on this strategy a little bit more has decreased the number of ventilator days for COVID patients, and therefore has saved lives,” he said.

The hospital now has more than 90 oxygen therapy machines that they can use. In addition, they can use them outside of the ICU, saving space for patients who do have to be placed on a more invasive ventilator.

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