Covid Death of Li Wenliang, the Doctor China Tried to Silence

Despite the official warnings, on Jan. 27, 2020, Dr. Li gave an anonymous interview to a prominent Chinese newspaper, describing how he had been reprimanded for trying to raise the alarm. Eventually, he revealed his identity on social media, and instantly became a folk hero. From his hospital bed, he took more interviews and said he hoped to recover soon to join medical workers fighting the outbreak.

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But on Feb. 5, Dr. Li’s condition deteriorated severely — his pneumonia grew worse, his breathing became extremely labored.

That afternoon, Dr. Li’s doctors ordered several tests of his lungs and heart, his medical records show. According to Dr. Yuan Jin, a pulmonary and critical care doctor at Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton, Massachusetts, these exams suggest that Li Wenliang’s medical team was responding to a worsened condition.

By the morning of Feb. 6, doctors wrote in the progress notes that Dr. Li was at risk of multiple organ failure. Several physicians we spoke to said that Dr. Li’s condition was so serious that his medical team should have at this point, or before it, considered intubating him and placed him on a ventilator — a higher level of oxygen support.

The records indicate that Dr. Li had earlier been given oxygen through a nasal tube and then an additional oxygen mask. His medical team also tried to use a noninvasive ventilator on Jan. 19, but wrote that “the patient could not tolerate.”

It is unclear why Dr. Li was not intubated. Some doctors are more reluctant to intubate young patients; sometimes the patients themselves refuse it. To this day, there is no consensus on when invasive ventilators should be used on Covid-19 patients.

On Feb. 6, Dr. Li went into cardiac arrest at around 7:20 p.m. Though his daily progress note did not explicitly say that his heart stopped, it recorded that the medical team started performing CPR — a procedure that is applied in such an emergency. They intubated him at that point, a common practice during resuscitation. The note said his pupils were not responding to light.

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