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Digital Healthcare

A Runaway Strep Infection Sent This Patent Lawyer To The Emergency Room. The Tech He Helped Protect Saved His Life.

Velia Tarnoff
Dorothy Pomerantz
October 08, 2019
At 53, David Bates had completed 16 marathons, competed in 17 mountain bike races and was training for his eighth American Birkebeiner, a 50-km cross-country ski race that takes place every year in northern Wisconsin. So the amateur competitive athlete was surprised when, after a simple 3-mile run this past February, he stepped off the treadmill feeling like something was definitely wrong. “I felt shaky and told a colleague that I would hopefully see them on Monday. But things went downhill pretty fast,” says Bates, an intellectual property lawyer at GE Healthcare in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.
By nighttime, Bates’ health had rapidly declined: His resting heart rate, normally a cool 50 beats per minute (BPM), was 100 BPM. He climbed into bed with his winter jacket, hat and gloves still on, but couldn’t get warm. When his fever spiked to 102.5 during the night and he experienced several fainting spells, he figured it was time to go to the walk-in clinic, where doctors quickly called for an ambulance to take him to the nearest hospital. There, within 15 minutes, nurses had administered an IV for hydration, performed a chest X-ray and began feeding antibiotics through his IV. Thirty minutes after that, bloodwork confirmed Bates was septic, a condition when the body’s response to an infection injures its own tissues and organs; it can lead to death or organ failure. His kidneys were starting to fail and, without quick treatment, there was a risk that other organs would start shutting down.

The World Health Organization estimates sepsis affects more than 30 million people worldwide every year, potentially leading to 6 million deaths. Anyone with an infection can progress to sepsis conditions but some vulnerable populations, such as elderly people and those living with HIV/AIDS or kidney disease, are at higher risk. Bates, whose illness came from strep bacteria, was not in one of those categories. Doctors told him his quick progression to sepsis was purely random.

Bates was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) at Waukesha Memorial Hospital, where caregivers began following a sepsis protocol of administering antibiotics and fluids — a course of action that, studies have shown, can help improve sepsis outcomes. “While I was unlucky this happened to me, I was lucky in how it turned out,” says Bates.

Despite his dire condition, Bates also felt a bit of pride. He noticed that during his diagnosis, monitoring, treatment and recovery, clinicians were using almost exclusively using GE Healthcare X-ray, CT, monitoring and ultrasound imaging systems, many of which had intellectual property inside that he had helped protect.

 width= An intellectual property lawyer for GE Healthcare and a multiple marathoner and bike and ski racer, David Bates spent four days in the hospital recovering from sepsis. The experience illustrated the importance of quick diagnosis — and of Bates' own work. Top and above images courtesy of David Bates.

Bates, who spent four days in the hospital, recovered quickly. Four days after he left the ICU, he took part in the American Birkebeiner — skiing a third of the race and then meeting up with his 10-year-old daughter at an aid station where they helped other skiers together. “When I came out of the hospital, I felt like I couldn’t take anything for granted,” Bates says. “And when I saw all of this GE Healthcare equipment and IP being used to help save my life, I had a new appreciation for the work we do.”

His story illustrates the importance of a quick diagnosis. Now GE Healthcare and its partners are working on ways to spot sepsis faster. In late 2017, GE Healthcare teamed up with Roche Diagnostics to start to build an AI-enabled “virtual collaborator”1 to integrate data from electronic medical records (EMR) and other patient-information systems and to provide insights into the changing status of patients who are at risk for developing sepsis-related problems. Bates helped negotiate the agreement with Roche before developing sepsis, and he’s now working hard to protect the sepsis-related IP resulting from this alliance.

The tools seek to help medical staff prioritize clinicians’ attention to the most critical patient cases and potentially reduce time to intervention. Or, in some cases, these solutions might be able to help clinicians to stop the deadly condition before it strikes.

“When it comes to spotting, treating and monitoring sepsis, time is of essence,” says Matthias Merkel, medical director of adult critical care and chief medical capacity officer at OHSU Health in Portland, Oregon. Part of the Oregon Health & Science University, the health provider is preparing to launch GE Healthcare’s sepsis “tile” — or application — as an additional support structure for its hospital command center.

Says Merkel: “The challenge is there are various warning systems available in the EMR, based on physiological data, but those are prone to challenges in interpretation. Some of these sepsis cases develop in a course of a few hours — patient’s heart rate goes up, it might be interpreted as pain, blood pressure is low, patient spikes a fever — all of these are patterns we see after surgery because it’s trauma to the body, and a large quantity of patients end up being normal. But a few of these signs suggest that a patient may be developing sepsis, in which case these patients need a very specialized treatment plan in a timely manner.”

1 Technology in development that represents ongoing research and development efforts. These technologies are not products and may never become products. Not for sale. Not cleared or approved by the U.S. FDA or any other global regulator for commercial availability.