We rightly hear a lot about Oxford’s vaccine, Covid-19 research and RECOVERY drug trials, but there are also countless personal stories, which display just how broad Oxford’s response to the pandemic has been. It is the contribution and commitment of many individuals that has enabled Oxford’s Medical Sciences Division to become a global leader.
Will Watson is a Cardiology Clinical Research Training Fellow & DPhil student in Radcliffe Department of Medicine. His research project, like many others, was put on hold when Covid-19 hit and he was asked to work from home. After a couple of weeks, he got the opportunity to be redeployed back to a clinical role in intensive care medicine to support the NHS response.
Will moved out of home as the force of the first wave of the pandemic hit in spring 2020. At the time, the horror stories from China and Italy made it clear that the situation was incredibly serious. Will recalled a vivid memory of packing up his car ready to leave Oxford and looking back at his house, wondering if he’d see it again.
In the hospital, there were challenges and losses. Will described a feeling of powerlessness amongst ICU teams as the virus claimed more people, despite receiving highly specialised intensive care. The lack of science and evidence to guide treatment added to this feeling – the virus was new, there were no experts and no proven treatments. So, the day that Oxford announced its trial results about the efficacy of dexamethasone for patients in intensive care was a very good day! To have a clinically proven drug was a huge step forward and gave him a huge sense of pride.
Will feels that his outlook on life has changed due to his experiences earlier this year. He’s living in the moment more, keeping closer contact with friends and feeling lucky to be healthy and to have been in a position to help. He’s fully prepared to go back and help again if his services are needed but also looks forward to getting back to his research at Oxford, which has been approved to restart.
Matt Bottomley is a Clinical Postdoctoral Researcher in Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences, working as a Lecturer and Renal Registrar with a role that is, in normal times, 50% clinical and 50% research. Matt became aware that clinical redeployment was needed in March and, as he had trained as a doctor, he felt it was the right thing for him to do in the nation’s time of need and agreed to return to full-time clinical practice.
For Matt, as a renal specialist, he was working as part of a team in the Churchill and John Radcliffe Hospitals to manage patients with kidney problems, either pre-existing or as a result of Covid. He describes looking after vulnerable immune suppressed patients and working in new ways to protect them from infection. Renal patients need dialysis, often several times a week, so the team set up a separate dialysis unit for patients with COVID to reduce the risk of transmission. Where possible, they also temporarily reduced the number of times a patient came in for dialysis to reduce contact and risk. However, they saw a lot of patients coming in with new kidney problems who were very sick, as they had been unable or unwilling to attend their doctor due to fears about catching Covid.
Matt recalls the devastating impact Covid had on some patients. He vividly remembers one patient – a previously healthy, middle-aged man who had been completely incapacitated by Covid. The patient needed renal support due to the serious effect of Covid on his body and he became so weak that he was unable to even move himself from bed to a chair. After a long spell in hospital and with intensive rehabilitation, Matt was delighted that the patient did finally recover and go home with a good outcome. Many patients were not as lucky.
Some of the team at the renal unit are now involved in Covid-focused research looking at biomarkers in renal patients to predict outcomes. This is still recruiting and is continuing during the current surge in cases. Matt is currently catching up with his own research project alongside working on the frontline in general medicine during this current wave. Matt and his wife also welcomed their new baby in December!
Oxford continues to make a huge impact in the fight against Covid-19. As well as the vital vaccine work and drug research that continues apace, many of our researchers have put their own research on hold and selflessly put themselves on the ‘frontline’. We have never been more proud to be part of community contributing such great things to the global pandemic response.