18 Years Old and on a Ventilator With COVID-19

May 19, 2020

While the coronavirus pandemic has been particularly lethal for people who are elderly, youth doesn’t guarantee protection against becoming critically ill with COVID-19.

What happened to 18-year-old Mattia is proof.

In the above scene from Inside Italy’s COVID War, a new FRONTLINE documentary, the young man lies prone on a bed in the intensive care unit at Cremona Hospital. He’s in a medically induced coma, a ventilator doing his breathing for him — one of the youngest such cases the doctors and nurses treating him have encountered in the weeks they’ve been battling the virus at the epicenter of Italy’s outbreak.

These are healthcare workers who have seen a lot. The hospital has been overwhelmed with coronavirus cases, and there have been so many COVID-19 deaths in the intensive care unit that one nurse says she’s lost count.

Seeing the disease ravage the body of someone Mattia’s age, though, is hitting them particularly hard.

“Waiting for death at 18 — it’s horrible,” says senior ER doctor Francesca Mangiatordi, her voice weary.

Putting coronavirus patients on ventilators is a treatment reserved for severe cases.

“While they were putting him to sleep, he said, ‘I’m scared I’m going to die,’” another doctor tells Mangiatordi of Mattia in the above excerpt, as they review a CT scan showing the young patient’s inflamed lungs. “I said, ‘No, we’re doing this to help you.’”

The doctors can only hope their course of treatment will work, and that those weren’t among the last words Mattia will ever hear.

The stories of Mattia, other coronavirus patients, and the health workers caring for them unfold in full in Inside Italy’s COVID War, an unprecedented documentary filmed at the height of the country’s coronavirus crisis. With rare and remarkable access inside a hospital on the front lines of the fight, director Sasha Joelle Achilli — herself a native of northern Italy — captures stories of life, death and impossible choices, and reveals the toll the outbreak has taken on both patients and health care workers.

Dr. Mangiatordi, who has two young children herself, sees Mattia’s situation as a parent’s nightmare.

“I would’ve thrown myself on him like a blanket to protect him, really,” she says of Mattia, whose family couldn’t be with him in the moment he was intubated.

She wishes “with all my heart” that his condition will improve.

“But from what I’ve seen in the scan,” she says, “I don’t know.”

For Mattia’s full story, watch Inside Italy’s COVID War when it’s released on Tues., May 19. The documentary will be available to stream in the PBS Video App and at pbs.org/frontline starting at 7 p.m. E.D.T./6 p.m. C.D.T. It will premiere on PBS stations (check local listings) and on YouTube at 10 p.m. E.D.T./9 p.m. C.D.T.

Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist, FRONTLINE



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