Budesonide, an inhaled corticosteroid, has continued helping some patients recover from COVID-19, though not as many as Dr. Richard Bartlett would like to see.
The emergency and primary care physician in West Texas promotes budesonide as a viable treatment for supportive care of those with the inflammatory response that often accompanies COVID-19 infection.
According to Bartlett, budesonide decreases the cytokine storm, wherein the body attacks its own cells and tissues rather than just fighting off the virus — which can lead to death.
He’s pleased with two studies that validate how budesonide can reduce the number of days on a mechanical ventilator.
Both studies, which were released in 2017 and 2018, show a significant benefit to patients on mechanical ventilation by reducing the inflammatory cytokines and decreasing the time to wean a patient from the ventilator.
Brenda Jones of Odessa recently experienced a serious case and was placed on a ventilator at Medical Center Hospital. She was in the hospital for a month and attributes her recovery to budesonide.
Her husband, Richard, took her to the emergency room on October 17 when the 55-year-old woman’s oxygen level started getting low. Due to damage to her lungs in her youth, the Jones’ keep a close eye on Brenda’s oxygen level. She even has oxygen at home for when it is needed.
According to Richard, upon arriving at the hospital, nurses tested Brenda for coronavirus and found her to be positive. She was moved to critical care and placed on a ventilator.
After three days of Brenda’s being on the ventilator with no improvement, her husband said his daughter-in-law told him about Dr. Bartlett and the success in using budesonide. Richard reached out to his wife’s treating physician, who he says refused to use the treatment, calling it experimental.
Not long after, Richard said another doctor from the hospital called him to suggest that Brenda be moved to hospice care and that he prepare for an end-of-life visit before she was removed from the ventilator.
Richard wasn’t ready to give up on Brenda and refused that option. He says that the doctor then called his youngest adult daughter, Ashley, and his son, Chris, to try to get them to agree to hospice care. Richard was furious because he felt the hospital was giving up on Brenda and trying to circumvent his discretion as her spouse.
The next day, Richard, Bartlett, and an attorney were able to speak to the hospital administration and the treating physician who agreed to try budesonide.
Within an hour, Richard reported, Brenda’s oxygen level increased from 80 to 95 and the ventilator was reduced to 80 percent.
She was treated once every six hours, although Dr. Bartlett recommends the treatment every two hours.
After 18 days total, Brenda came off the ventilator and twelve days after that, on November 16, she returned home.
After she started recovering, Richard said the hospice suggestion never came up again.
He said the doctors had given her Remdesivir and antibody therapy, but that the budesonide is what really worked.
“I think Dr. Bartlett is a very good Christian who knows what he is talking about. What he’s doing is helping people. My Brenda wouldn’t be here today. The budesonide brought her back around; I’m certain of that,” Jones told The Texan.
Bartlett is building a network of doctors who understand the use of budesonide in COVID-19 cases and can help patients in need.
“I am convinced that the hospitalization rate could be decreased quickly if this protocol was enacted as an early treatment strategy,” Bartlett told The Texan.
He urges patients to check with their primary care doctor first to ask for treatment.
“If you already have a relationship with a primary care physician and they know your history, start there. Show them the studies and ask them to try,” Barlett emphasized.
He has ethical concerns that have risen with COVID-19 treatment. Bartlett says he hears from people who can’t reach the treating physician for days when asking for information about their loved ones treatment.
“Doctors have a responsibility to have family involved in treatment options,” Bartlett stated, adding that there are “many good doctors and most doctors want to do the right thing.”
Medical Center Hospital did not reply to a request for comment.
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Kim Roberts is a regional reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.