CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - As the death toll from the coronavirus continues to rise, doctors and scientists are working around the clock to develop a treatment or a vaccine against the virus.
A new study authored by a doctor from the Cleveland Clinic offers researchers around the world new insight that could help. It was published in the American Journal of Clinical Pathology on Friday.
Dr. Sanjay Mukhopadhyay says before his study, no one in the entire world had published the autopsy reports of COVID patients.
“In the last three days I’ve had perhaps two dozen requests from all over the world, all over the world literally from Europe, from Japan, from all over the United States from researchers who are looking for this tissue,” explained Dr. Mukhopadhyay, director of pulmonary pathology at the Cleveland Clinic.
So, when the Oklahoma medical examiner’s office reached out to Dr. Mukhopadhyay, he was eager to help.
“What we’re looking for in these autopsies is some glimmer of hope of some kind of finding which could be reversible.”
The study focused on two autopsies done in Oklahoma. The first was of a 77-year-old man. He was having symptoms for six days, but never saw a doctor, never got tested for COVID and never got treatment.
“Then suddenly became weak and short of breath and then by the time he got to the hospital he had already had a cardiac arrest so he never made it to an ICU or ventilator treatment, so he died before that so we got to see what happens in the lungs of a patient who dies from COVID without being on a ventilator or getting any treatment,” said Dr. Mukhopadhyay.
For the first time, doctors got an up close look at how the virus kills. The doctor says the inside of the patient’s lungs looked like they were coated in a thick layer of paint.
“That’s why they can’t breathe because it’s very difficult to get oxygen through those thick walls,” explained the doctor.
They determined the 77-year-old died from COVID. The other case involved a 42-year-old and was much more complicated. They found that a preexisting condition predisposed him to get aspiration pneumonia, which is what killed him.
“It was not a viral pneumonia, but this man was positive for COVID by the postmortem nasal swab so this is the kind of a case where you could make a mistake when you’re attributing cause of death, because you could say he tested positive for COVID, he died of COVID.”
The hope is that with more autopsies like these, we can develop a treatment.
“Well they are looking into insights into what is potentially going on in the lungs that is reversible,” said the doctor. “Is there anything there that can be treated? Is there anything there that you can use a drug to target it?”
The study did find some bad news.
“There’s no specific drug that can make that reverse so you really need to treat the virus if you can which we don’t have a good antiviral drug so far but when we get one that will be the way to treat that,” said Dr. Mukhopadhyay.
The doctor also wanted to point out that the pathologists who performed these autopsies in Oklahoma are true heroes because they put themselves at great risk by doing this.