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Case study: "Just Do It" - Phil’s COVID-19 Research Story

Taking part in the RECOVERY-Respiratory Support trial

Last year, Phil Cawkwell, age 39, from Erdington spoke to us about his participation in the RECOVERY-RS COVID-19 trial. He knew only too well what some patients go through when they are hospitalised with COVID-19 because he is a member of the Anaesthetics Team at Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield.

Following three weeks spent intubating* patients with the disease during March 2020, he started to feel unwell himself, with a cough and chills in early April. Four days after first feeling unwell, he was tested for COVID-19 and was confirmed positive the next day. A week after that, he woke up at home, where he lives alone, unable to breathe. He says:

"I felt dizzy and scared and I was gasping for air." An ambulance was called and he was given oxygen by the paramedics.

I was petrified on my way to hospital and convinced I was going to die. The paramedics kept calling out my observations and as I am medically trained I knew just what they meant. I had a terrible feeling of doom and kept thinking about my three kids.

"It was truly traumatic - of course I knew I would be a candidate for intubation when I got to hospital and I really didn’t want to be taking up resource in the Intensive Care Unit, so I was only too pleased to agree to take part in the RECOVERY-RS trial, as I knew I would be randomised to one of three different treatments."

The trial sought to identify safe and effective alternatives to treatment using a ventilator. Patients took part in any ward of the hospital, and were given one of three possible treatments. These treatments are known as: Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), High Nasal Flow Oxygen (HFNO), and oxygen therapy.

"During the three and a half weeks I was in hospital, due to the PPE situation, I didn’t have that much contact with the research team, except for seeing the doctor every morning, but I am incredibly grateful I was offered the chance to take part in the trial.

It’s a fantastic opportunity and gives you hope at a dark time to think you might be helping other people.

"I have always been interested in research and I would say to anyone who gets the chance - just do it. We have to go forward with medical interventions and I would definitely think about taking part in further trials in future."

Now, one year on, Phil says:

The treatment I received on the trial gave my three children their Dad back.

Phil has made a very slow recovery and is now back at work after 11 months off sick, having suffered from significant pneumonia and problems with his heart.

"Even in October, I had fatigue and breathlessness but in the last three months I am back to riding my bike and can walk a mile without having to stop. I can’t emphasise enough how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to take part in RECOVERY-RS. Research has been so valuable in the fight against COVID - and of course I have had my vaccine. There’s no reason not to."

*Intubation is a procedure that's used when a patient can't breathe on their own. A tube is put down the patient’s throat and into the windpipe to make it easier to get air into and out of the lungs. A machine called a ventilator pumps in air with extra oxygen. Then it helps the patient breathe out air that’s full of carbon dioxide (CO2). This is called mechanical ventilation. It helps keep oxygen and CO2 at healthy levels.