– Megan Dillon thought she’d recover from flu symptoms with a little rest last month, just like everyone else in her Webster household.
But days in bed only made her worse, and she ended up in the emergency room at Christus St. John Hospital in nearby Nassau Bay.
A rapid H1N1 swine flu test was negative. Uninsured and determined to avoid a hospital stay that Saturday in mid-October, Dillon was released with two prescriptions for suspected pneumonia.
She didn’t improve.
“It came to the point where I wasn’t eating at all,” said Dillon, 27. “I had to sit up to sleep because I couldn’t breathe.”
Her boyfriend rushed her back to the ER. In less than 24 hours she was cocooned inside a rotating bed that held her body upside down. The prone positioning gave her lungs more room to heal and allowed infected mucus to flow out of her body.
Those who treated Dillon believe the bed made the difference. Without it, she might have a become one of the hospital’s first swine flu casualties.
“Just based on the severity and how fast it moved and how long she had been sick and how bad her X-rays looked, chances are she would still have been in the hospital — maybe not in the ICU — but on another floor with other issues and other complications for a long, long rehabilitation,” said Dr. Luigi Terminella, a pulmonary and critical care physician who treated Dillon. “She got the benefit from it within the first four hours, but it took eight days for her not to need it anymore.”
That first week, more tests confirmed Dillon had a severe case of H1N1. Dillon’s temperature shot to 106 as doctors tried various treatments.
All the while she rocked — face down — on the RotoProne. It’s made by KCI, a San Antonio medical products company. The bed costs $1,295 a day for the first 10 days then drops to a $395 daily rate. Mainland Medical Center as well as Memorial Hermann’s Texas Medical Center and Memorial City locations are among the area hospitals that use the device.
Contraptions to turn patients in respiratory failure upside down have been around for at least a decade. Doctors have been leaving patients on their bellies to improve lung function for much longer.
The effectiveness of prone positioning for patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome remains unresolved. A study published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, said receiving mechanical ventilation while face down does not significantly lower the risk of death compared to similar patients positioned face up during ventilation. Researchers in Italy and France have clinical trials under way, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Richard Castriotta, director of the division of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, said prone positioning is one tool among many when conventional mechanical ventilation fails.
“It’s of limited use. We do it as part of a lot of maneuvers when things are very, very bad,” Castriotta said. “ It’s not a big difference, however, for most people.”
He believes more doctors have turned to “rocker beds” to treat H1N1 because the virus has been more deadly to young people and pregnant women.
Terminella said Dillon could have ended up a “pulmonary cripple,” dependent on oxygen for life and without the stamina to remain an energetic young woman.