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Indy doctor helping to bring first-of-its-kind treatment for lung disease that could help COVID-19 patients

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Dr. Ashwin Ravichandran at Ascension St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis wasn’t predicting the future when he first joined a clinical trial for a new way to treat pulmonary hypertension, a type of blood pressure in the lungs now associated with COVID-19.

“It certainly wasn’t planned and we are not happy about that,” said Dr. Ravichandran, a cardiologist, who initially joined the trial and study to help his pre-pandemic patients improve their quality of life.

Patients like a once-active Gloria Mount of Pimento, Indiana.

“Everyday things just made me exhausted. Making the bed, going grocery shopping or even going for a walk, I just could not catch a breath and it is scary,” said Mount, who was introduced to Dr. Ravichandran through her primary care doctor.

Dr. Ravichandran was recruiting for a clinical trial to study the impact of inhaled Treprostinil to treat pulmonary hypertension and Gloria checked off all the boxes for having interstitial lung disease, which is one of the causes of pulmonary hypertension.

“Scarring of the lungs, causing high pressure of the lungs, causing the right side of her heart to fail,” said Dr. Ravichandran.

The hospital’s center was one of 40 to be a part of the trial but made up nearly 4% of participants.

“We have a high rate of PH in Indiana and we don’t exactly know why. One of the theories is we have a lot of rural areas with a lot of farming going on and is there some sort of chemical in one’s life that could be a factor,” the doctor said.

Indiana has a high smoking rate which Dr. Ravichandran also says is a factor.

It’s not clear what caused Mount’s symptoms such as shortness of breath and exhaustion, but after Mount started taking the medication as part of the study both she and Dr. Ravichandran say her improvement was quick.

“I can do things with my grandkids again and go to their games if were allowed to. I’m not going to say I don’t need breaks, but really such a difference and I am so happy,” said Mount who battled COVID-19 last year.

“I had COVID, I did. And I expected with my condition to have it really bad and I didn’t,” she said.

Mount believes the medication helped her lungs stay strong and healthy even with the virus.

While Dr. Ravichandran says data from the trial is currently under review for FDA approval, more research is needed to study its effectiveness on COVID-19 patients. But he’s optimistic.

“We see patients that have scarring of their lungs that are residual from COVID, could this patient be more common now? Depending on the severity of the scarring and the virus we would hope so,” he added.