Experiments, drugs, and machines: UCSF doctor fights for the lives of COVID-19 patients

When a COVID-19 patient lands in the ICU at CRMC or Clovis Community Hospital, Dr. Eyad Almasri is the man fighting for their lives.
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A Fresno doctor is giving COVID-19 patients a chance to recover through one of a few national experiments.

When a COVID-19 patient lands in the ICU at Community Regional Medical Center or Clovis Community Hospital, Dr. Eyad Almasri is the man fighting for their lives.

He's in charge of clinical studies on the drugs that could treat the disease.

"The most important one is Remdesivir," said Dr. Almasri.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, touted Remdesivir a week ago, saying studies have shown it can reduce the recovery time for seriously ill patients.

Dr. Almasri has used the antiviral on 14 patients as his contribution to nationwide trials.

"We started seeing some good signals," he said. "We can't make scientific conclusions from few patients, but if we put our data with the nationwide data it's promising and encouraging."

Dr. Almasri has earned a reputation as the Valley's last line of defense for patients suffering from severe respiratory failure because UCSF has the area's only ECMO.

They've used the extra corporeal membrane oxygenation on three COVID-19 patients.

So far, all three have survived. Two of them are stable and still on ventilators, one is getting off.

Dr. Almasri is also cleared to study the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine and convalescent plasma, which comes from recovered patients.

"We have not tried it on anyone yet, but it is available to us now and central California blood back is collecting donated plasma," he said.

He's hoping more recovered patients will donate.

The intensive care doctor is well respected by his peers, who notice he even has his own pocket ultrasound to scan for problems like pneumonia.

"He is such a dedicated doctor," said Fresno County medical officer Dr. Rais Vohra, a UCSF colleague. "And he just carries his own ultrasound machine to make sure he gets that information on every single patient."

Dr. Almasri sees those patients in their ICU rooms about 10 times a day.

He says he feels safe, but he's always watching for trouble down the road.

"We're still bracing for another wave when the shelter in place order is over, but hopefully we will be ready and we are here to serve this Valley," said Dr. Almasri.

For now, though, he says the Valley is blessed to have seen the warning signs and acted early, so his lifesaving treatment isn't overwhelmed.
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