New care and research center to study COVID treatments

Dr. Karan Omidvari has overcome the worst of the coronavirus, having been intubated twice during a stay at Hackensack University Medical Center where he’s a doctor.

He’s now home, but joins the many recovering patients facing a whole new set of long-term health challenges from the virus.

“You can actually almost feel like your life is ending. I personally believe that it’s like shortened my life for like 10 years. I fall short of breath easily, I get lack of stamina easily,” he said.

“There’s very little long-term data out there, but from our studies that we are still amidst, it appears, first of all, that patients experience a tremendous amount of continuing fatigue. The second biggest problem is ongoing shortness of breath. The third area is a lot of patients still have cough with phlegm production, but then some have muscle aches that have persisted in addition to the fatigue,” said Hackensack University Medical Center’s Dr. Laurie Jacobs.

Doctors are still trying to determine all the ways the virus presents both in the short- and long-term. Things like respiratory and cardiac problems, or risks for blood clots and stroke.

“Right now we are opening a post-COVID treatment program and this will also be a source of collecting data, with patients; consent, to look at the long-term implications of infection with COVID-19, which are quite expansive,” Jacobs said.

“I lost my short-term memory, so all the knowledge that I’ve acquired in a few months leading up to the disease are gone, so I’m relearning them,” Omidvari said.

Memory loss is one of the neurological impacts of COVID. Some patients also present with autoimmune responses that can include pain in the body similar to that of fibromyalgia. Others lose muscle tone, possibly from long stays in the hospital.

“We will be studying things from the epidemiology of this disease, why do certain people get it more severely than others, to the clinical manifestations to finally the genetic and cellular mechanisms,” Jacobs said.

They’ll also compile data to better understand how these mechanisms respond to various treatment combinations.

“At different points in the disease process I was given steroids, I was given an experimental drug which is the cytokine inhibitor, which may or may not have worked but we don’t know. I believe what did the trick, for me anyway, was I was given convalescent plasma treatment,” Omidvari said.

Convalescent plasma treatments come from other patients who have already recovered and whose bodies have figured out the right combination of cytokine inhibitors, according to Omidvari.

“A lot of treatments were tried early. We are starting to analyze data to see if they were effective or not, but it’s my strong hope that we are going to think about and devise newer, more effective therapies,” Jacobs said.

It’s a critical process as health care providers plan for a likely second wave in the fall.