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For healthcare 'heroes,' death toll keeps rising

Alan Judd, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Health & Fitness

Piedmont is "deeply saddened by any lives lost," spokesman John Manasso wrote in an email. But he added: "Georgia has reported increases in the number of COVID-19 positive cases in recent weeks due to high community spread. Like every other hospital and health system in communities experiencing increases like this, our team at Piedmont is not immune."

Like Piedmont, Emory Healthcare suggests workers who have contracted COVID-19 may have been infected outside their workplaces.

"To date, our experience with employee infections suggests they are tied to community spread and not patient-to-employee transmission," Janet Christenbury, an Emory Healthcare spokeswoman, wrote in an email. She described health care workers' deaths as "sobering reminders of the severity and prevalence of COVID-19."

After David Plater developed a fever, the muscles in his legs began to ache. Later, he vomited and complained of a piercing headache.

At the Emory Hillandale emergency room, X-rays showed Plater had pneumonia in both lungs. He was tested for the coronavirus and, the following morning, sent home.

"Twenty-seven hours later," Kim Plater said, "he was back in the ER."

By then, David had lost his sense of smell. He was wheezing and coughing up blood. His coronavirus test had come back positive.

Hoping to ease David's breathing, doctors at Emory University Hospital started him on oxygen, Kim said. They ordered breathing treatments with a nebulizer, then placed him on a bilevel positive airway pressure machine, or BiPap, that was supposed to force oxygen into his lungs.

Because of the pandemic, Kim couldn't stay with her husband in the hospital. But from FaceTime calls, she said, "you could see he was getting worse."

The last time they spoke was about 1:30 a.m. on June 4, after doctors decided to put David on a ventilator. Emory had just published research that showed a death rate of about 30% for COVID-19 patients placed on mechanical ventilation, and doctors gave David a few hours to get his affairs in order.

 

Until then, "I never thought he would pass," Kim said. "It got to the point where it was too much, and he didn't think he was going to make it."

David Edward Plater died at 12:15 p.m. on June 9. It had been 10 days since he experienced the first symptoms of the coronavirus. He and Kim, who were married 14 years, had an 8-year-old son, and David had an adult daughter from an earlier relationship.

At his funeral, speakers recalled David's passion for coaching youth basketball, his quick wit, his work ethic. The church was packed with mourners in face masks.

Two months later, Kim remains convinced that, despite all his caution, David caught the virus at work. David's death, she said, is a reminder to other health care workers that even the most careful among them is at risk.

"It makes it more real," she said. "It could very well be us at any time, any time.

"We're terrified."

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