A new 360° virtual reality fly-through video shows clearly the effects COVID-19 has on a pair of healthy lungs.
The video was released by the George Washington University Hospital. Dr. Keith Mortman, their chief of thoracic surgery, explained that the lungs in the video belong to a 59-year-old man who was in generally good health before contracting the disease.
“This is not a 70, 80-year-old immunosuppressed, diabetic patient,” Mortman said. “Other than high blood pressure, he has no other significant medical issues. This is a guy who’s minding his own business and gets it … If we were to repeat the 360VR images now, that is one week later, there is a chance that the infection and inflammatory process could be worse.”
Despite his relatively good physical condition, the patient currently requires a ventilator to be able to breathe. However, even with the device at its highest setting, he was still having problems and he needed a second machine to help circulate and oxygenate his blood for him. The patient currently remains in critical condition in the ICU.
Inflammation in The Lungs
The 360-video shows why that’s the case. The areas marked in yellow-green represent the infected and inflamed parts of the patient’s lungs. Inflammations are a standard response of our bodies when they encounter an infection – our bodies attempt to isolate the virus and seal it off in one small area.
The problem with COVID-19 is that this doesn’t seem to work – the virus manages to rapidly and aggressively spread through big parts of the patient’s lungs bringing even more inflammation with it.
“For these patients who essentially present in progressive respiratory failure, the damage to the lungs is rapid and widespread (as evidenced in the VR video),” Mortman explained. “Unfortunately, once damaged to this degree, the lungs can take a long time to heal. For approximately 2-4% (depending on which numbers you believe) of patients with Covid-19, the damage is irreversible and they will succumb to the disease.”
The reason these levels of mass inflammation across the lungs are dangerous is that the inflammation prevents the affected areas of the lungs from oxygenating the blood and removing carbon dioxide. This is what causes patients to gasp for air or be unable to breathe.
What’s worse is that for some patients, COVID-19 can cause a drop of 20 to 30% in lung function.
“I want people to see this and understand what this can do,” Mortman said. “People need to take this seriously. A lot of us, we are walking in the dark with this. So we want to understand it as best we can. This was our first patient, but I am sure he is the first of what will likely become many in the coming weeks.”
The virtual video was made with the hospital’s CT imaging technology that’s typically used for videos of cancer screenings or to plan surgeries. This new use of technology shows why COVID-19 is so dangerous. Unlike other common respiratory infections that are usually found in small parts of a patient’s lungs, the coronavirus manages to overcome the body’s immune response and infect much larger areas of the lungs.