YOUR HEALTH: The extra care ICU patients should get, but aren’t

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania – For many people who have been admitted to a hospital intensive care unit, recovery does not end once they are released to go home.

For most, life after an ICU stay is filled with unexpected challenges.

Doctors are now learning more about patients with PICS, post intensive care syndrome.

PICS is now being recognized as a public health burden. 

Connie Bovier had it.

Last May she walked into the emergency room and collapsed.

"My oldest son looking at me and saying, 'mom do you know where you are?'" she recalled.

Connie spent 22 days in the intensive care unit with pneumonia, sepsis and blood clots in her lungs.

"Her respiratory failure was so severe that she needed to be paralyzed and flipped onto her belly in the hospital bed in order to increase the oxygen so we could deliver it to her bloodstream," said Dr. Brad Butcher of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Critical Illness Recovery Center.

Connie survived the deadly infection.

She's used to beating the odds, breaking barriers in the seventies as one of the first female telephone splicers.  The single mother of five hates feeling afraid and weak.

"I can't even put a water pitcher in my fridge."

Dr. Butcher says U.S. experts are just beginning to recognize the combination of physical, cognitive and mental health issues like depression and anxiety that plague patients once they are discharged.

"Cognitively, they may have a difficult time remembering things, difficulty concentrating or paying attention to something."

Last year Dr. Butcher developed a Critical Illness Recovery Center.

ICU patients are evaluated shortly after discharge and then referred to specialized physical therapy, occupational therapy or speech therapy.

Critical support for patients on the very long road to recovery.

"This is the journey to my best life," said Connie.

CRITICAL ILLNESS RECOVERY CENTER:   Dr. Butcher said the Critical Illness Recovery Center began in June 2018.   "The clinic is multidisciplinary, including pharmacists, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, social workers, and ICU physicians.   Patients with prolonged stays in the ICU are evaluated shortly after hospital discharge using a holistic approach that evaluates that person as a whole rather than as one organ system or body part.   Based on that evaluation, a comprehensive rehabilitation plan is developed to help the patient achieve the goals that they set for themselves.   This often means referral to specialized physical therapy, occupational therapy, or cognitive therapy, but also includes other medical specialists like pulmonologists and psychiatrists, referral to our peer support group, and addressing how they want their future medical care to look like."

Dr. Butcher says the clinic in Pittsburgh is one of a handful in the U.S.

They address the group of symptoms that plague patients with post-ICU Syndrome, issues that most family care practitioners don't have the time to cover in a 30 minute visit.

He says hospitals in Europe began addressing it several years ago by developing clinics to evaluate these patients.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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