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Local BBQ pitmaster ends up in ICU for double COVID pneumonia

Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 10:24 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - ICU doctors say they have more patients than ever before with many of them suffering from COVID-19 complications.

“Right now as I sit in this ICU, every single patient that we have who is on a ventilator for COVID pneumonia is unvaccinated,” said Dr. Kyle Happel, pulmonary and critical care at LSU Health.

James Cruse, 44, is the pitmaster at Central City BBQ near Downtown New Orleans. He tested positive for COVID-19 in late July and said his symptoms were pretty mild-- some fatigue, and aches. He said he lost his taste and smell for a couple of days. But overall an otherwise “pretty easy COVID week,” he said.

“Everything checked out real clear. I had clear lungs. No issues,” said Cruse. “And then four days later, I was back.”

Cruse said he woke up hyperventilating and couldn’t breathe well.

“It was just hard to breathe,” he said. “Tiny short breaths in. Regular breath out.”

Things turned for the worst. Cruse relapsed and contracted double COVID pneumonia and blood clots in his lungs, putting him in critical condition. He ended up in the ICU on oxygen and other life-saving measures.

“It was crazy,” he said. “They had all these masks on me and hoses everywhere and IVs.”

ICU doctors say COVID pneumonia is the primary reason why people end up in the hospital. It can cause severe decreases in oxygen levels, resulting in shorter breath.

“People tend to get sicker more quickly,” said Dr. Happel. “Obviously we had people that were very sick with other initial variants of COVID. I think if there were a main difference, it seems that the onset of illness seems to be more rapid.”

Dr. Happel said with the Delta variant, patients tend to get sicker at a faster rate. And severe cases of COVID pneumonia can keep patients in the ICU for weeks, oftentimes ending up on a ventilator.

“It causes other organ damage and sometimes it’s the collateral damage that occurs when you’re so critically ill with COVID pneumonia, sometimes those things can be lethal themselves.”

Like leading to heart failure or kidney failure, according to Dr. Happel.

“The lungs are an organ that when they’re damaged when they’re inflamed, they can actually injure other organs,” he said. “So what we see with this COVID pneumonia is that other organs other than the lungs, even if they’re not primarily infected by the virus-- though many are-- they can be damaged just because of the severe inflammatory response that the person can have to the COVID.”

But Cruse is lucky.

“I wouldn’t want to go through it again,” he said.

In a Facebook post, Cruse said he’s thankful to be alive after not knowing if he would survive the week. He said he has to stay on blood thinners for the next three to six months to prevent blood clots and will have to continue breathing exercises to build strength in his lungs. But overall, he said he feels good.

Dr. Happel said the COVID vaccine is still the best way to protect yourself from the virus.

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