A team of five cardiac sonographers at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center bravely volunteered to join the frontline fight against COVID-19, and in doing so, created global best practices that more accurately identify deadly symptoms and better protect caregivers from the virus.
Doctors treating severely ill COVID-19 patients in China found that after the virus attacks the lungs, it often moves on to the right side of the heart, quickly debilitating it and contributing to their death.
Echocardiograms can detect this shift in symptoms by using sound waves to take an internal picture of the heart. However, the virus presented several problems. The smaller, portable units used in ICU rooms work well during emergencies, but do not provide the same image quality as full-sized machines. And because ICU nurses are in direct contact with patients during the scan, fewer echocardiograms were being ordered to protect them from potentially contracting the virus.
That’s where the Aurora St. Luke’s cardiac sonography team stepped up to the challenge. Five volunteers – Abigail Kaminski, Abby Payne, Sarah Roemer, Melissa Salazar, and Emily Tanel – began investigating how the virus affects the heart by personally scanning patients in the COVID-19 ICU. Using the same portable units – and their expertise – they were able to create a more targeted procedure that collects better patient data faster. The team’s innovation improves patient care and limits caregiver exposure to the virus.
“They are heroes. Their selfless efforts have gotten invaluable information and helped set the worldwide standard for how to better treat COVID patients suffering from these severe cardiac symptoms,” said Dr. Bijoy Khandheria, cardiologist at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center and past president of the American Society of Echocardiography.
Through mid-May, the Aurora St. Luke’s team has scanned 80 COVID-19 patients. Their findings have already been published, writing the playbook that is now being adopted by hospitals and caregivers around the world.
“We felt like we could do more to help patients and nurses on the frontlines every day. It is an honor to contribute to their care and we hope it makes a difference and can save lives,” said Abigail Kaminski, Aurora St. Luke’s cardiac sonographer and lead author of the team’s findings.
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