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A doctor who treated victims of the Grenfell Tower fire has told how some had to be put in an induced coma to safeguard their recovery.
Dr Helgi Johannsson compared their care to “putting a TV on standby” as he described the importance of taking over a patient’s breathing after they suffer smoke inhalation.
The aim is to allow time for the lungs and airway, swollen and scarred by hot smoke and toxins, to heal, so the patient can breathe unaided. He also revealed how trauma medics at St Mary’s hospital had struggled to cope with the “burned, horrified children” made orphans by the disaster on June 14.
The hospital, in Paddington, received 16 fire victims, many of them children. Dr Johannsson, consultant anaesthetist and clinical director for theatres and anaesthesia at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs St Mary’s, said: “We are quite used to dealing with disaster and tragedies — that is what you do in a trauma centre.
“But every once in a while something gets past your defence barriers, and really gets to you. It’s important to allow it to, rather than bottle it up.”
Anaesthetists take a lead role in caring for trauma patients, administering pain relief and drugs that cause unconsciousness and paralyse the muscles. Post-operative care is also provided by anaesthetists. The long-term use of ventilators creates a risk of infection.
St Mary’s also received casualties from the Westminster and London Bridge terror attacks.
Describing the use of intubation, to enable artificial breathing, Dr Johannsson said: “I think of it like a TV you put on standby, or low-power mode. It means the brain isn’t consuming as much oxygen which, if you have a bleed on the brain, is very important. It allows us to take them to the CT scanner to get the investigations done in a more controlled and quick manner. If it is an expanding clot on the brain, we need to deal with that within one hour or you will end up with brain damage.”
Police believe about 255 escaped the blaze and that around 80 are dead or missing, with 32 identified and 55 post-mortems having taken place.
London News & Search