"It's almost like drowning." A UK doctor has shared what it's like to die from COVID-19.

A doctor working on the COVID-19 frontline in Wales has shared a disturbing description of how someone can die after contracting the virus.

Speaking to the UK’s Channel 4, Dr David Hepburn, who is an Intensive Care Consultant at the Royal Gwent Hospital, shared what death from the coronavirus can look like without intervention.

“What we know is primarily the coronavirus causes respiratory failure. So when it spreads to the lungs, it causes what we call a pneumonitis, where the lungs become very wet and waterlogged inside. So the normal mechanisms that keep fluid in the blood break down. The little membranes and tissues and the bases of the lungs become porous, and that allows fluid to leak in from the circulation into the lungs, almost like drowning,” he explained.

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In terms of intervention, Dr Hepburn explained that with a ventilator, patients can be kept alive as ventilators “help to keep the lungs open”.

“One of the things we provide with ventilators is pressure, which pushes some of that fluid out and helps to keep the lungs open,” he explained.

“So [without a ventilator]… people become exhausted because the work of breathing is so great that they basically become exhausted and die,” he added.

“So, if you imagine your lungs are normally like a nice, light sponge – light and easy to move. If you’ve ever pulled a sponge out of a bucket of water you’ll know how heavy and wet can become. It’s exactly the same thing – if your lungs are absolutely sodden, then it’s very, very difficult to breathe.

“What happens over time is people’s levels of oxygen fall, the levels of carbon dioxide, which is a gas you normally breathe out, rise in the blood. That makes you even more drowsy – it has a narcotic effect. And then people will slowly develop worsening respiratory failure, and eventually they’ll become unconscious and their breathing will get more shallow and they’ll die.”


As Dr Hepburn explained, this isn’t the only cause of death among patients with COVID-19.

While working on the frontline, the UK-based doctor has seen patients die from “multi-organ failure”. He’s also seen myocarditis as a prominent cause of death.

“Often when they’re starting to recover – the heart can become very adversely affected and they develop heart failure,” he shared.

“That’s been probably the leading cause of death in the COVID patients we’ve seen.”

Dr Hepburn has also previously shared his own experience of having the coronavirus, which he contracted in March.

In a video shared on the Aneurin Beavan University Health Board, Dr Hepburn shared that he contracted the virus “before any of the coronavirus patients really arrived on the intensive care unit”.

“It started off very innocuously. I had a burning sensation in my nose, I lost my sense of taste, I never had a cough and then I’ve had a week of just feeling absolutely terrible,” he shared.


“Aching muscles, aching bones and unable to get out of bed – sleeping 16 to 18 hours a day.

“I’m on the mend now thankfully, I hope, but I can’t emphasise to you how sick this can make you.”

In the video, Dr Hepburn emphasised that the patients he is currently treating in his intensive care unit are “certainly not frail, elderly people”.

“They’re young, they’re fit and they have young families,” he said.

As of the time of reporting, there are over 1.2 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide.

In Australia alone, over 5,700 people have contracted the virus.

Around the world, the severity of the symptoms of COVID-19 seem to vary on a case-by-case basis.

You can look at the breakdown of the severity of the symptoms below.

While many experience light or mild symptoms which are similar to a common cold or flu, others can become severely ill with severe symptoms.

“The most common symptoms that people will get are fever and a cough,” Dr Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious diseases physician and Associate Professor at the Australian National University Medical School, told Mamamia.

“There may be other symptoms to a lesser extent, like fatigue, sore throat, shortness of breath, muscle aches and pains, and uncommonly diarrhoea and a runny nose.”

Feature Image: Channel 4/Twitter.

For more on COVID-19:

To protect yourself and the community from COVID-19, remain in your home unless strictly necessary, keep at least 1.5 metres away from other people, regularly wash your hands and avoid touching your face.

If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000. 

To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

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