Happening Now

Barrow Responds to COVID-19

March 26, 2020

Dear Friends,

Since 1962, the world’s leading experts at Barrow Neurological Institute have accepted the challenge of treating patients deemed “untreatable” – giving them hope and saving their lives. Today, doctors, scientists, nurses, and therapists at Barrow rise to a new challenge – providing the best care for patients battling the worst brain and spine disorders, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the beginning, Barrow Neurological Foundation has been the catalyst for our donors’ passion to provide the means necessary for the world’s leading specialists at Barrow Neurological Institute to save lives. Our mission is more important now than ever before. 

Unsurpassed patient care, curative research, compassionate outreach, and world-class medical education are the four pillars of Barrow philanthropy, and in the face of the COVID-19, they remain strong.

Unsurpassed Patient Care

Last Thursday, Barrow converted a significant portion of our clinic visits to a telemedicine protocol, so patients could meet with their doctors and manage their diagnoses by phone or video-chat, while remaining safe at home and complying with social distancing guidelines. We have deployed The Medical Memory, an app that records, replays, and shares videos of doctor visits to improve communication between patients and doctors, and increase connection between hospital-bound patients and their families.

Not all visits can be managed through telemedicine, however, so Barrow experts stand ready to treat urgent complications from epilepsy, confirm new diagnoses of ALS, administer nerve blocks for debilitating migraines, adjust Deep Brain Stimulation devices for Parkinson’s patients, and ensure continuity of care for all. Inpatient rehabilitation continues to help individuals with brain and spinal injuries regain their independence, while many outpatient rehab appointments have shifted to telemedicine to keep patients safe. Even as our neighbors stay home to “flatten the curve,” the Barrow Emergency Stroke Treatment Unit bravely responds to 911 calls for stroke – 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Although elective procedures have been postponed to increase the capacity of the hospital for new COVID-19 patients, Barrow surgeons continue to conduct life-saving operations for patients stricken by ruptured aneurysms, spinal trauma, and brain tumors.

As the need has increased, Barrow has responded to support our public health. Many of our neurosurgical nurses are now manning the phones to answer questions from the community about COVID-19 and its spread. Barrow has mobilized its neuro-intensive care unit to prepare for a possible influx of infected patients. Founded by residents, the Barrow Innovation Center has shifted some of its 3D printers away from making spinal models and toward producing personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep our doctors and nurses safe so they can care for our patients.

Curative Research

Even as our doctors and nurses care for patients on the front lines, more than 200 researchers continue working behind the scenes in all Barrow laboratories. As scientists, they perform essential experiments in the lab, but conduct data analysis and grant writing offsite, increasing social distancing and reducing the threat of spreading the virus. Despite these hardships, Barrow scientists continue to support their clinical colleagues and remain ready to assist the hospital in any capacity.

Clinical research is slowing dramatically. Investigators in fields as diverse as Alzheimer’s and ALS are working diligently to determine how active clinical trials could shift to telemedicine, but many trials require in-person safety checks, so these trials may have to be re-started once this crisis has passed.

The Ivy Brain Tumor Center at Barrow Neurological Institute is adjusting its clinical trials to meet the new reality: Because glioblastoma patients can’t wait for surgery, research nurses are conducting phone consents for archival tissue, and if their tissue qualifies, patients can come in for screening, provided they pass infectious disease risk assessments. Existing study patients are also undergoing in-person neurological exams and lab tests to ensure they can safely continue their medication.

Compassionate Outreach

To protect our patients and their families from COVID-19, Barrow made the difficult choice to cancel or postpone our in-person outreach activities. To prevent “social distancing” from becoming “social isolation,” our Barrow outreach professionals are adapting to the new normal – recording chair yoga classes in Spanish and English for Parkinson’s patients, conducting support groups online for Lewy Body dementia, and converting our Memory Cafes for Alzheimer’s patients into virtual, web-based gatherings, starting in April. This team has rushed to provide technical assistance to the telemedicine conversion for our clinics.

World-Class Medical Education

Finally, Barrow continues to train the next generation of neuroscience leaders. Residents have been divided into teams to ensure hospital coverage and minimize exposure between physicians.  Just last Friday, Barrow Neurological Institute “matched” with its new class of incoming residents and fellows. These new doctors will graduate medical school this spring and report for duty to Barrow in July, continuing in our proud tradition of training more neurosurgeons than any place in the country. The need for skilled medical care worldwide has never been more critical, and Barrow will continue working with international fellows to ensure they can provide world-class neurological care in their communities.

Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, brain cancer, stroke and other devastating neurological conditions do not subside when a pandemic arises. Rest assured, Barrow Neurological Institute is doing everything possible to care for patients during this crisis, and Barrow Neurological Foundation and our donors will make sure they have the resources they need.

We are here to answer any questions or concerns you may have so please do not hesitate to reach out.

Stay healthy and safe.

With gratitude,

Katie Cobb

President, Barrow Neurological Foundation

Michael T. Lawton, MD

President and CEO, Barrow Neurological Institute