It’s one of the lessons from the hospital frontlines and it was reinforced during the recent coronavirus pandemic— positioning matters. A significant percentage of pneumonia patients who were placed on their stomachs or sides early on were able to avoid mechanical ventilation.
As patients began to flood hospitals in March and April, ventilators were in short supply. That’s when some emergency doctors began to rethink patients’ positions in bed. Traditionally, on their backs.
“Just by the weight of your media sternum, your heart and your chest on the lungs, it collapses some of the spaces of the lungs," said Nicholas Caputo, associate chief and attending physician in the department of emergency medicine at NYC Health and Hospitals. "You turn the patients over, and what that does is that helps to open up some of the collapsed alveoli.”
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Airway specialist Dr. Richard Levitan volunteered at a New York hospital for 10 days and saw the benefits and the drawbacks of being awake in a prone position.
“Patients sometimes are uncomfortable laying down on their stomach. And I came up with the idea to use a pregnancy massage cushion as a way to help patients lay on their stomach comfortably,” Levitan said.
Levitan coordinated with a California company that made proning boosters and had some distributed to several New York hospitals. At the same time, Levitan and Caputo did a small study following 50 COVID patients who were placed in a prone position at one hospital in the Bronx.
“And in those 50 patients within the first 24 hours, we were able to avoid intubation in three-quarters of them.”
The small change in position made a life-altering difference in some COVID patients.
Levitan has since formed the nonprofit Prone2Help which distributes the proning mattresses to hospitals. To date, Prone2Help has distributed more than 650 proning cushions to more than 200 hospitals in 45 states.
Contributors to this news report include Cyndy McGrath, Executive & Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.