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News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida and WUSF can help. Our responsibility at WUSF News is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

Surviving COVID-19: Critical Care Doctor Lands In His Own ICU

COVID-19 Survivor Dr. Devandra Amin
Stephanie Colombini
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WUSF Public Media
Dr. Devandra Amin of Clearwater contracted the virus in late March, when scientists and physicians knew very little about how to treat it. He recovered, and has helped care for COVID-19 patients ever since.

"It was difficult, especially when patients didn't make it. It was very difficult personally, because of my survival."

More than 750,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Florida since March. Health News Florida talked to some of the survivors about what it was like to have the illness and how it's changed their lives.

Dr. Devandra Amin, director of critical care at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, was diagnosed with COVID-19 in late March as coronavirus cases began rising across the country and he and his colleagues prepared for an expected surge in hospitalizations.

He shared his experience being a patient in his own intensive care unit:

"It was daunting initially. At that time, we were really learning how to manage and treat [COVID-19]. And with consensus between the group I work with and physicians from around the country, we were able to plan a treatment course with the drugs available. At that time we did not have convalescent plasma available, Florida was not receiving remdesivir.

Over the next several days, fortunately, I seemed to improve and I did not require ventilation. And luckily, I was able to be discharged on some oxygen about ten days after admission. So it was a close call, but with the phenomenal care I got here at Morton Plant, with our intensive care unit staff, the physicians and nurses, I think we beat this.

We were not allowing visitation, which was standard across the country, because of the risk to family and staff. The only way I could communicate was through FaceTime. I could handle it, I know how the WiFi here worked, but for many of our older patients, that's not possible all the time. It's very isolating as an experience. Over the last several weeks, we have opened up visitation to one or two people to give that sense of community and support.

Unfortunately, my father, he lives with us, and two days after I was discharged, he was admitted [with COVID-19]. And then after two weeks, he decided he didn't want to continue. He made up his mind until the very end, at 90. Again in our ICU, but phenomenal care.

Gradually over time, things have improved. My lungs are not back to normal yet, based on breathing tests and imaging studies. I'm off treatments for now. But I'll be getting a follow up CT scan on the inflammation that I had, which unfortunately is affecting a lot of people around the country. We do have protocols for managing that post-discharge now that we set in place across BayCare [Health System].

"We couldn't help everybody unfortunately."

I came back to work after about five weeks on a lighter rotation, lighter schedule. But other than stairs, I'm okay. If I'm climbing upstairs, then previously, I could do – we have seven floors here – I could do seven floors without stopping. Now after three floors I have to stop. Hopefully in the next few weeks, it'll get better and better.

The important thing was to realize that patients have all sorts of thoughts going through their mind when they're going through this level of illness, which is unknown.

It’s the first time in my 30-35 year practice history that we've been in a situation where we really didn't know how to treat something adequately. You know, we see this occasionally, sporadically, but in a large number of people, it's very difficult to know if we're doing the right thing.

There's so much in literature about try this, try that. And then there's so much that are saying, 'Let's not do any of that stuff because we don't know it works.' People who are pure scientists who are not at the bedside, felt like it was okay not to try these things because it wasn't proven, based on ivory tower principles. But you had to do something.

It was difficult, especially when patients didn't make it. It was very difficult personally, because of my survival. We couldn't help everybody unfortunately.

Things are a little bit better. I'm afraid of a second surge coming through the fall in conjunction with the flu. We won't have a vaccine that's effective and proven until probably early next year, hopefully. But the safety issue is very important.

Pushing schools to open up without appropriate PPE is a huge risk factor, and we're seeing the consequences, where schools are being shut down, classes are being shut down because of this.

I know there's a need to get people back to a routine for their mental state and for education purposes, but you can't recover that education, you can't recover the economy, until everybody has got a semblance of safety when they go to work or to school. So with opening up you have to have appropriate safety and PPE to prevent further outbreaks."

This story is produced in partnership with America Amplified, an initiative using community engagement to inform local journalism. It is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.