Ridgefield Resident Dr. Carolyn Couture Treated the “Sickest of the Sick” in Stamford Hospital’s COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit

By Sarah Stabile-Motta

For nearly two months this past spring, Dr. Carolyn Couture, Ridgefield resident and internist with Stamford Health Medical Group, treated the sickest of the sick during the fight against COVID-19.  Couture had been called upon to help solve the puzzling problems COVID-19 was presenting in patients at Stamford Hospital, especially in pregnant women, who according to the CDC were 50% more likely to be admitted to the ICU and put on a ventilator. She worked two twelve-hour shifts per week, all the while treating her regular patients via telehealth. Couture’s family was onboard with her decision and even created a “bunker” for her in their finished basement where she would live, work, eat, sleep and exercise.

“I got very good at treating COVID-19 patients,” said Couture, who regularly practices out of Stamford Health’s state-of-the-art medical office in Wilton. “We were constantly adjusting treatment plans based on data and experiences from around the country –  and the world,” said added. “Many patients were placed ‘prone’ or on their front side and ventilator settings were specifically adjusted to improve oxygen levels and protect the lungs. Physical therapy teams were invaluable in assisting the nurses and respiratory therapists in this huge task of turning intubated patients with multiple lines over in their beds. At the peak, Stamford Hospital had 149 COVID-19 patients in the hospital. Now we have less than 10,” said Couture in mid-July.

“Thankfully, none of my coworkers got sick, which is surprising given that we were sharing computers. But we had adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and we diligently followed Stamford Health’s recommended guidelines,” said Couture. “The four W’s are imperative: wash your hands and sanitize, wear a mask, wipe surfaces and watch your distance,” she added.

According to the American College of Physicians, internists are often referred to as the ‘doctor’s doctor’ because they are called upon to act as consultants to other physicians to help solve puzzling diagnostic problems. Couture is truly a “detective” of the human body, tracing symptoms and conducting tests to determine the root cause of the illness or disease.  She approaches patient treatment from a whole-body perspective, rather than a specific disease or body part. Couture’s interest in medicine is deeply rooted; her father was an orthopedic surgeon who taught her to listen to a patient first. “You can usually make a diagnosis by listening to the patient’s story and symptoms,” he suggested.

Since the start of the pandemic, Stamford Hospital worked tirelessly to bring new therapies to critically ill patients. It was one of the first sites in the United States to offer convalescent therapy using plasma, right behind Mount Sinai and The Mayo Clinic.

Stamford Hospital also made national news when “Zully,” a COVID-19 patient and Guatemalan asylum seeker, arrived at Stamford Hospital eight months pregnant – and gravely ill. Doctors performed an emergency cesarean-section to deliver her baby boy, who they named Neysel, on April 1, 2020. She was put in a coma for 3 weeks and remained on a ventilator and in critical condition until a plasma antibody trial appeared to greatly improve her condition. During her time in the hospital, her 7-year-old son’s teacher took care of her newborn baby, taking him in as if he was her own. At the end of May, Zully returned home and was reunited with her newborn baby.

As for Dr. Couture’s predictions for the fall and winter seasons, Couture says “we just can’t say, but to be safe, everyone needs to continue practicing the four W’s. The good news is that there are sixteen drug companies actively working on trials. We anticipate there will be a vaccine by the end of the year and hopefully it will be made available in early 2021.”