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Coronavirus Patient's Fight Doesn't End After Getting Off A Ventilator, Speech Pathologists Say

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Ventilators have been a key resource in the coronavirus pandemic, but they take a toll on patients' vocal chords.

Now with more New Yorkers relying on ventilators, the doctors who help vocal chords recover are also being strained.

It's a celebration in so many hospitals when a patient is discharged after battling the coronavirus, but even after the patient gets off a ventilator, their fight is not over.


Dr. Marissa Barrera is director of the Speech Pathology Graduate Program at Yeshiva University.

"When someone's on a ventilator, there's a tube that's been passed through their mouth through their vocal chords and into their airway," she told CBS2's Ali Bauman.

Barrera says prolonged ventilator use can strain vocal folds, which affects communication, swallowing and breathing.

"For individuals who have a respiratory disorder like COVID-19, and you add on the addition of prolonged ventilator use, we're seeing a new type of rehabilitation necessary to help them get back those essential functions," she said.

Typically speech pathologists and a team of specialists use a variety of exams to monitor a patient's vocal recovery, but like the rest of the health care system right now, they're strained for resources.

Dr. Luis Riquelme is a speech pathologist in a Brooklyn hospital.

"The taxing part on the speech pathologists right now is we're somewhat limited in some of the tools that we typically use," he said.

He says to keep up with the effects of COVID-19 and the influx of patients on ventilators, his colleagues have to rely on clinical exams versus more precise testing.

"Now there are times that we'd love to do it and we can't," Riquelme said. "Sometimes we're moving forward and we're a little blind."

CORONAVIRUS: NY Health Dept. | NY Call 1-(888)-364-3065 | NYC Health Dept. | NYC Call 311, Text COVID to 692692 | NJ Health Dept. | NJ Call 1-(800)-222-1222 or 211, Text NJCOVID to 898211 | CT Health Dept. | CT Call 211

To fill in the gaps and help patients fully recover, doctors have to work together even more than they're used to.

"This is an incredible challenge and it's also been an opportunity for us to share in our speech pathology community ... and the impact that things that we take for granted -- like producing voice, talking and swallowing -- have on quality of life," Riquelme said.

So when a patient beats COVID, they're not blindsided by another battle.

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