Sept. 1, 2024

Navigating the unseen: Libin Institute responds to COVID-19

Innovation, compassion and resilience in the face of unprecedented challenges

Like the rest of the world, the Libin Cardiovascular Institute was deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our members embraced the challenges, pushing through uncertainty and putting patient care first. Several Institute members undertook critical research to better understand and address the complex issues brought on by the pandemic. 

Continue reading for a glimpse into this research, which spanned numerous topics from developing a rapid response network, investigating the pandemic’s impact on emergency rooms, health care providers and new immigrants, to whether prone positioning can improve outcomes for patients hospitalized with COVID and looking at acute myocarditis after vaccination. Work is ongoing in this area, in both patient care and research, as more people develop autonomic conditions after a COVID-19 infection.  

Unravelling the impact of the pandemic on emergency care

Emergency physician and researcher, Dr. Andrew McRae, MD, PhD, alongside medical student Dan Lane, PhD, studied hospital avoidance during the first wave of the pandemic. They found that although emergency room visits dropped by about 30 per cent, EMS calls increased, more patients required admission to hospital and fewer patients followed EMS advice to go to the hospital. Disturbingly, the rate of death outside hospitals tripled. 

Pioneering efforts in the Canadian COVID-19 emergency department rapid response network

McRae and emergency physician and researcher Dr. Eddy Lang, MD, who is the academic and clinical department head and a professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Cumming School of Medicine, are part of the Canadian COVID-19 Emergency Department Rapid Response Network. The network is a national collaboration with public health partners in more than 51 emergency departments across eight provinces in Canada. The goal of the network is to harmonize data collection related to COVID-19. The database, which includes data from more than 200,000 patients across Canada, was intended to inform clinical decision making, establish the effectiveness of treatments and vaccines, evaluate COVID-19 diagnostic tests, and describe the natural history of the disease. The network has resulted in more than 15 publications. 

Mental health support for immigrants

Researcher Dr. Turin Tanvir Chowdhury, PhD, focused on understanding and addressing the mental health needs of immigrants working during the pandemic. His innovative approaches aimed to provide culturally-sensitive support for newcomers facing a chaotic scenario in workplaces like Walmart, Cargill and other essential services that remained open during the pandemic. He was awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Partnership Engage grant to support this work. 

Investigating prone positioning in COVID-19 patients

Respiratory specialist and researcher Dr. Jason Weatherald, MD, and co-principal investigator Dr. Ken Parhar, MD, section chief of Cardiac Critical Care, investigated the impact of awake prone positioning in COVID-19 patients. The intervention places COVID patients suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) on their stomach for 12 to 16 hours a day to improve oxygen consumption from the lungs. A study published in 2022 found that awake prone positioning compared with usual care reduces the risk of intubation by about five per cent in patients with respiratory failure due to covid-19 but probably has little to no effect on mortality or other outcomes.

Dr. Sofia Ahmed: Shedding light on the gendered impact of COVID in health care providers

Dr. Sofia Ahmed's study delved into the impacts of COVID-19 on health care providers, revealing a disproportionate toll on female workers. Her findings shed light on the unique challenges faced by women in the health care sector.

Dr. James White: investigating acute myocarditis following mRNA-based covid-19 vaccination

Cardiologist and researcher Dr. James White led a dedicated team in studying the occurrence of acute myocarditis following mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccination. This rare complication primarily manifested in adolescent and young adult males within seven days of receiving a second dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. Using advanced cardiac MRI imaging assessments, alongside monitoring cardiac symptoms and clinical outcomes, the research aimed to shed light on the recovery process in the hearts of young patients.

The study's findings revealed rapid reductions in heart inflammation and improvements in heart function over a three-month period. Despite these reassuring outcomes, Dr. White and his team recommended ongoing surveillance due to a common observation of residual scarring of the heart muscle after the inflammation subsided. This research contributes significantly to the understanding and monitoring of potential cardiac complications associated with mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccination in specific demographics.

Dr. Satish Raj: Unraveling the Mysteries of Long-COVID

Cardiologist and researcher Dr. Satish Raj dedicated his efforts to studying and treating patients with Long-COVID symptoms at the Calgary Autonomic Investigation and Management Clinic. Since the pandemic began, the clinic has witnessed a surge in individuals seeking treatment for symptoms ranging from rapid heartbeat to exercise intolerance and cognitive concerns, significantly impacting their quality of life. The research group has had several significant findings. 

They have found there is evidence of impaired autonomic nervous system function in Long-COVID patients and a high prevalence of autonomic disorders. The team has also found these patients aren’t recovering from their autonomic conditions, and that there is a need to develop targeted treatment for these patients. 

Addressing what matters to patients

The Libin Cardiovascular Institute’s response to COVID-19 was swift, flexible and is ongoing. Our researchers and care providers are on the front lines, tackling the issues that matter to Calgarians. This commitment to excellence in patient care, made possible, in part, through cutting-edge research, sets the stage for an even brighter future.