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The emotional toll of the COVID-19 battle inside Laval's ICU – CBC.ca

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A mechanical whir fills the room as a sling slowly lifts a patient out of her hospital bed.

“Wow, it’s fun to see you like that,” says nurse Caroline Brochu, as the woman is lowered into a chair.

After spending nearly two weeks on a ventilator, severely sick with COVID-19, the patient had been extubated a few days earlier.

She’s slowly being weaned off the oxygen and has regained enough strength to start physiotherapy.

In her early 70s, the woman was admitted to the intensive care unit at Cité-de-la-Santé hospital in Laval in early February.

Like many of the patients the hospital has treated, she was generally healthy before she contracted the virus.

“No comorbidities,” said Dr. Joseph Dahine, an intensive care specialist. “Just high blood pressure and a little bit of asthma.”

Psychologists regularly check in with the ICU staff to see how they are coping with the exhaustion and emotional strain of COVID-19. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

The unknown road ahead

In mid-February, CBC Montreal was granted exclusive access to the hospital’s intensive care unit.

A year into the pandemic, it’s still difficult to predict who will only need a few days of oxygen to bounce back and who will be on a ventilator for weeks.

But what is clear is the virus spares no one.

The ICU has treated severely ill patients as young as 24. Back in January, about two-thirds of the patients were under 60.

At the time of CBC’s visit, there were five patients.

Over the past 11 months, the ICU has treated a total of 175 patients. Twenty-five have died.

During that time, the ICU has worked in uncharted territory, with personnel at times risking their own health to ensure those suffering the most severe COVID-19 complications get care.

WATCH | Staff inside the ICU talk about the cases that still haunt them and the unknown road ahead:

ICU staff at Laval’s Cité-de-la-Santé hospital have 12 months worth of stories of hope and heartbreak. But they’re still worried about what will happen next. 5:44

“Trying to keep the morale has been the hardest aspect of all of this,” said Joanie Bolduc-Dionne, the ICU’s head nurse. “Right now, we have some fantastic psychologists that come day, evening, night to support the team.”

The psychologists visit to get a sense of how staff are coping, and what they might be struggling with, she said.

Family has to stay at a distance

Life inside the ICU can be an emotional roller-coaster — for the staff, the patients and their families.

The daughter of the woman who was recently extubated has arrived for a visit but she has to stay outside the room because her mother could still be contagious.

The distance is painful for both of them.

Exhausted from the effort of sitting and eating, the woman is back in her bed. Her eyes fill with tears as she looks at her daughter through the glass door.

“It’s harder to see her now, like this,” said the daughter, turning to a nurse. “When she was intubated that was bad, but at least she didn’t realize she was in that situation. Now, she knows what’s going on.

Dr. Joseph Dahine, pictured at right, consults with the ICU team at Cité-de-la-Santé Hospital in Laval. Treating COVID-19 patients requires constant re-calibration to pinpoint what may be causing a patient’s deterioration. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

Startling deterioration

Following CBC’s visit, the woman had an unexpected setback overnight. During her sleep, her heart started to race.

The ICU team managed to bring her heart rate back down, but the doctor on shift is concerned about her breathing, which is rapid and shallow.

“If we can’t give you enough oxygen and you are tired with the mask, and if we don’t intubate you, well, it’s death,” Dr. Dahine tells the woman.

With a resigned nod, she agrees to be re-intubated as a last resort.

As she continues to deteriorate over the next few days, doctors have no choice but to put her back on a ventilator.

It’s a sobering reminder of just how unpredictable this virus can still be.

At the beginning of March, the patient was brought out of the induced coma, but still needs a ventilator to breathe.

She had to undergo a tracheotomy. She can only communicate with her family and the staff by blinking.

“She still has a long way to go to recovery but at least she is no longer in a coma,” said Bolduc-Dionne.

At the height of the first wave, Cité-de-la-Santé Hospital had 22 COVID-19 patients in the ICU. The week CBC visited, there were five. Although the number of cases appears to be stabilizing, health officials are worried variants of the coronavirus could trigger a third wave. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

Although the number of COVID-19 cases may appear stable, the volume of cases linked to variants of the coronavirus is rising rapidly.

‘The fight is not over’

On Tuesday, Quebec’s health minister continued to warn people to remain vigilant over the March break.

This week, Laval’s ICU accepted two new patients to the red zone, which is strictly for those who are severely ill with COVID-19.

“The fight is not over,” said Bolduc-Dionne.

As the vaccination effort in Quebec gathers steam, staff here hope people don’t forget there’s a parallel battle being fought in the ICU, a battle the public doesn’t see.

“I hope they realize that [the virus] is really dangerous and that you can infect people you love,” said nurse Caroline Brochu.

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New species of crested dinosaur identified in Mexico

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A team of palaeontologists in Mexico have identified a new species of dinosaur after finding its 72 million-year-old fossilized remains almost a decade ago, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said on Thursday.

The new species, named Tlatolophus galorum, was identified as a crested dinosaur after 80% of its skull was recovered, allowing experts to compare it to other dinosaurs of that type, INAH said.

The investigation, which also included specialists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, began in 2013 with the discovery of an articulated tail in the north-central Mexican state of Coahuila, where other discoveries have been made.

“Once we recovered the tail, we continued digging below where it was located. The surprise was that we began to find bones such as the femur, the scapula and other elements,” said Alejandro Ramírez, a scientist involved in the discovery.

Later, the scientists were able to collect, clean and analyze other bone fragments from the front part of the dinosaur’s body.

The palaeontologists had in their possession the crest of the dinosaur, which was 1.32 meters long, as well as other parts of the skull: lower and upper jaws, palate and even a part known as the neurocranium, where the brain was housed, INAH said.

The Mexican anthropology body also explained the meaning of the name – Tlatolophus galorum – for the new species of dinosaur.

Tlatolophus is a mixture of two words, putting together a term from the indigenous Mexican language of Nahuatl that means “word” with the Greek term meaning “crest”. Galorum refers to the people linked to the research, INAH said.

 

(Reporting by Abraham Gonzalez; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

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Alberta family searches for answers in teen's sudden death after COVID exposure, negative tests – CBC.ca

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A southern Alberta mother and father are grappling with the sudden, unexplained death of their 17-year-old daughter, and with few answers, they’re left wondering if she could be the province’s youngest victim of COVID-19.

Sarah Strate — a healthy, active Grade 12 student at Magrath High School who loved singing, dancing and being outdoors — died on Monday, less than a week after being notified she’d been exposed to COVID-19.

While two tests came back negative, her parents say other signs point to the coronavirus, and they’re waiting for more answers. 

“It was so fast. It’s all still such a shock,” said Sarah’s mother, Kristine Strate. “She never even coughed. She had a sore throat and her ears were sore for a while, and [she had] swollen neck glands.”

Kristine said Sarah developed mild symptoms shortly after her older sister — who later tested positive for COVID-19 —  visited from Lethbridge, one of Alberta’s current hot spots for the virus.

The family went into isolation at their home in Magrath on Tuesday, April 20. They were swabbed the next day and the results were negative.

‘Everything went south, super-fast’

By Friday night, Sarah had developed fever and chills. On Saturday, she started vomiting and Kristine, a public health nurse, tried to keep her hydrated.

“She woke up feeling a bit more off on Monday morning,” Kristine said. “And everything went south, super-fast.”

Sarah had grown very weak and her parents decided to call 911 when she appeared to become delirious.

“She had her blanket on and I was talking to her and, in an instant, she was unresponsive,” said Kristine, who immediately started performing CPR on her daughter.

When paramedics arrived 20 minutes later, they were able to restore a heartbeat and rushed Sarah to hospital in Lethbridge, where she died.

“I thought there was hope once we got her heart rate back. I really did,” recalled Sarah’s father, Ron.

“He was praying for a miracle, and sometimes miracles don’t come,” said Kristine.

Strate’s parents say her health deteriorated quickly after being exposed to COVID-19. She died at Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge on Monday. (Ron Strate)

Searching for answers

At the hospital, the family was told Sarah’s lungs were severely infected and that she may have ended up with blood clots in both her heart and lungs, a condition that can be a complication of COVID-19.

But a second test at the hospital came back negative for COVID-19.

“There really is no other answer,” Ron said. “When a healthy 17-year-old girl, who was sitting up in her bed and was able to talk, and within 10 minutes is unconscious on our floor — there was no reason [for it].”

The province currently has no record of any Albertans under the age of 20 who have died of COVID-19.

According to the Strate family, the medical examiner is running additional blood and tissue tests, in an effort to uncover the cause of Sarah’s death.

‘Unusual but not impossible’

University of Alberta infectious disease specialist Dr. Lynora Saxinger, who was not involved in Sarah’s treatment, says it is conceivable that further testing could uncover evidence of a COVID-19 infection, despite two negative test results.

However, she hasn’t seen a similar case in Alberta.

“It would be unusual but not impossible because no test is perfect. We have had cases where an initial test is negative and then if you keep on thinking it’s COVID and you re-test, you then can find COVID,” she said.

According to Saxinger, the rate of false negatives is believed to be very low. But it can happen if there are problems with the testing or specimen collection.

She says people are more likely to test positive after symptoms develop. 

“The best sensitivity of the test is around day four or five of having symptoms,” she said. “So you can miss things if you test very, very early. And with new development of symptoms, it’s always a good time to re-test because then the likelihood of getting a positive test is a little higher. But again, no test is perfect.” 

Sarah deteriorated so quickly — dying five days after she first developed symptoms — she didn’t live long enough to make it to her follow-up COVID-19 test. Instead, it was done at the hospital.

‘An amazing kid’

The Strate family now faces an agonizing wait for answers — one that will likely take months — about what caused Sarah’s death.

But Ron, who teaches at the school where Sarah attended Grade 12, wants his daughter to be remembered for the life she lived, not her death.

Strate, pictured here at three years old, had plans to become a massage therapist. She attended Grade 12 at Magrath High School and was an active, healthy teenager who was involved in sports, music and the school’s suicide prevention group. (Ron Strate)

Sarah was one of five children. Ron says she was strong, active and vibrant and had plans to become a massage therapist after graduating from high school.

She played several sports and loved to sing and dance as part of a show choir. She was a leader in the school’s suicide prevention group and would stand up for other students who were facing bullying.

“She’s one of the leaders in our Hope Squad … which goes out and helps kids to not be scared,” he father said.

“She’s an amazing kid.”

Sarah would often spend hours helping struggling classmates, and her parents hope her kindness is not forgotten.

“She’d done so many good things. Honestly, I’ve got so many messages from parents saying, ‘You have no idea how much your daughter helped our kid,'” said Ron.

“This 17-year-old girl probably lived more of a life in 17 years than most adults will live in their whole lives. She was so special. I love her so much.”

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China launches key module of space station planned for 2022

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BEIJING (Reuters) -China launched an unmanned module on Thursday containing what will become living quarters for three crew on a permanent space station that it plans to complete by the end of 2022, state media reported.

The module, named “Tianhe”, or “Harmony of the Heavens”, was launched on the Long March 5B, China’s largest carrier rocket, at 11:23 a.m. (0323 GMT) from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the southern island of Hainan.

Tianhe is one of three main components of what would be China’s first self-developed space station, rivalling the only other station in service – the International Space Station (ISS).

The ISS is backed by the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. China was barred from participating by the United States.

“(Tianhe) is an important pilot project in the building of a powerful nation in both technology and in space,” state media quoted President Xi Jinping as saying in a congratulatory speech.

Tianhe forms the main living quarters for three crew members in the Chinese space station, which will have a life span of at least 10 years.

The Tianhe launch was the first of 11 missions needed to complete the space station, which will orbit Earth at an altitude of 340 to 450 km (211-280 miles).

In the later missions, China will launch the two other core modules, four manned spacecraft and four cargo spacecraft.

Work on the space station programme began a decade ago with the launch of a space lab Tiangong-1 in 2011, and later, Tiangong-2 in 2016.

Both helped China test the programme’s space rendezvous and docking capabilities.

China aims to become a major space power by 2030. It has ramped up its space programme with visits to the moon, the launch of an uncrewed probe to Mars and the construction of its own space station.

In contrast, the fate of the ageing ISS – in orbit for more than two decades – remains uncertain.

The project is set to expire in 2024, barring funding from its partners. Russia said this month that it would quit the project from 2025.

Russia is deepening ties with China in space as tensions with Washington rise.

Moscow has slammed the U.S.-led Artemis moon exploration programme and instead chosen to join Beijing in setting up a lunar research outpost in the coming years.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Liangping Gao; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Simon Cameron-Moore and Lincoln Feast.)

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