FF-medic repurposes infant mask to help COVID-19 patients breathe
A Texas fire department is trialing the new method of giving oxygen through a patient's nose
By Leslee Bassman
TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas — Medical providers were recently abuzz about a new treatment for respiratory distress that includes a high flow of oxygen entering through a patient's nose, said Braden Frame, a seven-year firefighter and paramedic with Lake Travis Fire Rescue. The action stems from COVID-19 complications encountered in the field by first responders.
However, that procedure requires a lot of oxygen and equipment to heat and humidify the air—items that aren't feasible, reasonable or available in pre-hospital medicine but rather employed on the wall of an emergency room or in an intensive care unit, Frame said.
So Frame, who serves on the organization's COVID-19 Task Force science division that develops plans and procedures to keep patients and firefighters safe, sought a better way.
"I thought, 'how can we replicate that same type of treatment in the field?'" he said.
Frame reviewed existing equipment and noticed an infant face mask within the department's arsenal that's rarely used. Although the tool is designed for a baby's face, he found it was a perfect size to cover most adult noses. On April 3, he fit it over his colleagues' faces and added oxygen flow that proved the new method successful.
The crew's medical director, James M. Kempema, said the procedure had potential to improve care in the field and authorized a trial run of the device—the High Flow by Infant Simple Face Mask—within days, Braden said.
The novel method is an alternative to ventilating severe coronavirus patients or placing a tube in their throat, Kempema said, since the disease often affects an individual's ability to get oxygen into their bloodstream. The mask protects the infection from being spread through the air around the patient while oxygen is flowing to him or her, he said.
"Our hope is it can dramatically help those people who are severely, severely ill and hopefully keep them off the ventilator," Kempema said.
The trial will need to go through a number of patient procedures before the department can ascertain its efficacy, he said.
"It only appears to have upsides," Frame said of the flow tool. "It's easy to deploy, it's cheap, it's readily available and it provides a level of oxygen flow at a significantly higher volume with a low pressure that we can't achieve by any other means pre-hospital."
Now, all Lake Travis Fire Rescue trucks are equipped with the new product, and the innovation marks a first for the local agency.
"We are the first in the world to try this," Frame said. "I've spoken with some airway physicians, other firefighters, national nurses and doctors who focus on airway management and no one else has ever heard of it or seen it being done or used at all," he said. "Everybody is very, very curious to see what our first results look like when we use this on a patient."
Within its 104-square-mile jurisdiction, Lake Travis Fire Rescue provides emergency services to the area in the RM 620 and Texas 71 corridors, including Lake Travis; Apache Shores; Hudson Bend; Village of The Hills; Lake Pointe; Hamilton Pool Road; and the cities of Bee Cave and Lakeway.
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