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Ventilator shortage spurs team of doctors to take extreme measures

Coronavirus

Medical equipment for resuscitation in operating room. (iStock)

NEW YORK (CBS) — A group of doctors are working on a procedure in which one ventilator can serve multiple patients, as medical professionals across the U.S. fight on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic. Ventilators are in critically short supply nationwide, and are needed to keep patients alive in the most serious stage of COVID-19.

“We’re able to ventilate, successfully, two patients for about an hour using this system,” Dr. Matthew Levin told CBS News’ Don Dahler.

Levin and his team at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital used parts bought at Home Depot to convert a ventilator meant for one to aid two patients, and are now on their third version of the device.

“They’re basically plumbing valves like you might find in your basement,” he said.

The group used a YouTube video in which Detroit physician Dr. Charlene Babcock demonstrated the process. The team first tested on realistic mannequins before they were recently able to vent two humans with one machine.

“The thing about ventilators is they have a lot of capacity – and so when you look at it, it really can potentially ventilate … more than one patient,” Babcock said.

The doctors insist that the makeshift device is a last resort. Statistics show that patients in a condition that requires a ventilator already have a slim chance of survival, but until more become available, they believe this is a better option than leaving them without a ventilator altogether.

Emergency room physician Dr. Lorenzo Paladino has also studied the procedure and is training other doctors on how to do it.

“I compare it to a life jacket on an airplane. It’s not a substitute for the airplane,” Paladino said. “And if you’re wearing it then you’re in a disaster and it’s dire. The life jacket is merely to keep you alive until you are rescued.”

While Paladino said he believes the double-ventilator situation works and has been possible to carry out, he acknowledged that the “data is still lacking.”

The desperate ventilator procedure has already been met with controversy.

A group of medical associates issued a joint statement saying “… using it on more than one patient at a time risks life-threatening treatment failure for all of them.”

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