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Utah heart attack victim competes for medical care amid surge in COVID-19 cases

Coronavirus

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(CNN) — In the predawn hours of a recent Tuesday morning in a suburban Salt Lake City hospital, Laurie Terry’s doctor made a disturbing discovery: Utah’s record setting COVID-19 outbreak had become more dangerous than many knew.

The virus now had the ability to potentially kill a patient — his patient — even if she wasn’t infected.

Hours before, Terry, a 47-year-old mother and wife, had suffered a heart attack in her Herriman, Utah, home. According to her sister, she had to be revived four times in the ambulance on the way to the nearest hospital.

Once there, the medical staff and her doctor quickly determined Terry would likely die if she didn’t get the more sophisticated life-saving treatment found in an intensive care unit of a larger hospital.

“He (the doctor) told us right away, we’re doing everything we can to try and find a hospital that can take Laurie, and we can’t find one,” Stephanie Deer, Terry’s sister, said.

“If you would have seen the look on that doctor’s face, he was incredulous. He couldn’t believe he was telling us this.”

Deer and her sister are not alone.

The state is experiencing “one of the worst (coronavirus) outbreaks in the country,” Utah Gov. Garry Herbert said Tuesday.

As a result, patients suffering other life-threatening medical events — non-COVID related — are in a dangerous competition for limited specialized medical care.

Utah is in the middle of the worst period for new COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. The state is among the 14 that reported their peak COVID-19 hospitalizations in the past week, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

The state’s total ICU usage was at almost 70%, Herbert said Tuesday, and almost 16% of the state’s ICU beds are used to treat COVID-19 patients.

On Friday, the University of Utah hospital’s ICU was at 104% capacity.

COVID surge taking a toll on Utah doctors

Dr. Emily Spivak, among the doctors helping treat COVID patients in Utah, feels frustrated and upset by the surge in cases — because she said she knows this shouldn’t be happening. Coronavirus is preventable by hand washing, social distancing and mask wearing.

She reached her breaking point in a parking lot outside the level one trauma center where she works in Salt Lake City.

“Well I was trying so hard not to,” she said, referring to her tears. “I mean honestly this is just super frustrating.”

Spivak said she sees many people in public no longer following US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines — and believes they’ve just grown complacent.

“I don’t see an end. No one’s doing anything to stop what’s happening,” she said. “It’s kind of like people just are going out and living their lives not realizing that they are exhausting our health care system.”

Deer said she witnessed the frustration of doctors firsthand.

“I watched those nurses call for hours, trying other systems, doing everything they could, I mean desperate.” she said.

“I don’t know how the doctors and nurses and things are going to be able to keep this up when your whole life, your whole profession is dedicated to saving people’s lives and you can’t access medical care for a patient.”

And she shares health care professionals’ frustration.

She and her sister followed every COVID precaution carefully, Deer said. Yet her sister could die as a result of the virus anyway.

She’s angered by those who ignore the science.

“They don’t understand how precarious their own lives and the lives of everyone they love are. … This could happen to anyone. They need to wear a mask,” Deer said. “They need to care about their neighbors, their family, their children, and they need to do it right now.”

Eventually Terry was able to be transported to a hospital with an opening and the specialized care she needed. But Deer said her condition has grown worse.

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