LAPD Detective released from St. John’s after COVID-19 recovery amid health care worker protest for more PPE

By Kellie Chudzinski

LAPD Det. Michael Chang credited his family and St. John’s for helping him survive COVID-19
Photo by LUIS CHAVEZ

Last week, Michael Chang was fighting for his life against the novel coronavirus.

But on April 17, the LAPD detective was released from Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica and ready to continue his recovery at home.

Cheers from dozens of LAPD officers and hospital staff greeted Chang as he was wheeled out of the hospital.

Following signs of illness beginning on March 26, Chang initially began COVID-19 treatment in Orange County, then was transported to Saint John’s on April 7 in “extremely critical condition,” where he went on to participate in a clinical drug trial.

When asked what got him through his difficult time in the hospital, Chang, wearing a face mask as news crews gathered around him at a safe distance, simply pointed to his wife and sons standing behind him.

“You never know if it’s the last time you’ll see [your] loved ones. You’re on your own,” he said.

With visitation to COVID-19 patients limited in hospitals, he was able to stay connected to his family members through frequent video chats.

“I would truly, truly, truly want to thank the nurses and all the staff upstairs,” Chang added. “I sat there for I don’t know how many days watching them come in, and they have the greatest attitudes in the world. And they’re coming here every day for people like me.”

A team of doctors, including Dr. Raymond Lee and Dr. Terese Hammond, treated Chang. Both doctors explained that he was given a variety of treatments, including the use of a ventilator.

Chang was also placed on an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine, which oxygenates the blood outside of the body, acting as a set of external lungs, and a promising drug, Sarilumab, which is typically used to fight cancer and works to reduce organ inflammation.

“The ECMO takes over the function of the lung and allows him to come down on the high ventilator settings, which can become harmful to the lungs itself and buys us time to let all those drugs start to work,” Hammond said.

“My heart breaks every time we lose a patient,” Lee said, after elbow bumping with Chang outside of the hospital. “Every time we save a patient during this crisis, it reminds me why we take this job and why we do what we do.”

Of the detective, Hammond added that he would need oxygen at home and that recovery from COVID-19 is uncertain.

“There’s going to be a new normal” as patients recover, he said, adding, “we have to respect this virus.”

Before Chang’s release, nurses protested outside Saint John’s in solidarity with colleagues who had spoken out about the hospital’s lack of personal protective equipment, PPE, specifically N95 masks that block out 95 percent of airborne particles, for nurses on the medical center’s COVID-19 ward. The protest came days after 10 nurses were suspended from the hospital when they refused to treat patients without the high-grade medical masks. One Saint John’s nurse, speaking to local broadcast news outlets on Friday, alleged that she had contracted the virus while treating patients at the hospital.

“I believe that I contracted COVID-19 while I was at work because I did not have enough protection,” nurse Angela Gatdula told ABC 7 Los Angeles via video chat from home.

After Chang was driven off by his wife Dana, Hammond thanked the hospital’s nurses, two of whom were outside for the send-off.

In a statement, the hospital said it was providing N95 masks to nurses caring for COVID-19 patients as well as those awaiting test results.

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