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A life line for intensive care patients and their families

A patient who spent six weeks in intensive care at Guy’s Hospital after contracting COVID-19 explains how Life Lines helped her through this difficult time.

Georgia ProrokLife Lines was established in March 2020 to help connect families who have been isolated from their loved ones in intensive care because of changes made to visiting policy in response to COVID-19. This project has now enabled more than 100,000 virtual visits across the UK.

Georgia Prorok [pictured right with husband John], a patient who spent almost a month in a coma after contracting COVID-19, has said that virtual visits made possible through Life Lines saved her life while she was recovering in hospital.

Georgia was transferred to the intensive care unit at Guy’s Hospital in March 2020 when her organs started to fail. Due to restrictions put in place through the pandemic to reduce the spread of infection, her husband, John, was unable to visit.

During her six weeks in intensive care, Georgia and John were given the chance to see and speak to each other virtually using a tablet and app, aTouchAway, funded by the Life Lines project.

Georgia said:

It was like living a nightmare. I was scared when I woke up from the coma and all I wanted was my family to be by my bedside. Life Lines gave me some peace because it was the only line of communication I had with my husband and sister.
The second or third time I used the tablet it saved my life. I had some dark moments and felt like I didn’t want to carry on, I didn’t have the strength. When I spoke to my husband and sister they were saying ‘do it for us’. It gave me the strength to carry on fighting for my life.

As well as facilitating a video call between Georgia and her family, Life Lines gave medical staff the opportunity to explain treatments and answer the family’s questions.

Georgia explained:

It was a rollercoaster for my family and there were times when they didn’t think I was going to make it. Life Lines allowed John to speak to the staff on a daily basis and to have reassurance from seeing me.

The Life Lines project was founded by Prof Louise Rose, professor of critical care nursing at the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery and Palliative Care, King's College London, and Dr Joel Meyer, critical care consultant at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

They collaborated with Michael Paquet, the CEO of Aetonix, to modify the medical app aTouchAway, creating a secure virtual visiting platform for families whose loved ones are in intensive care units.

Working with King’s Health Partners, King’s College London, the True Colours Trust, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, Bray Leino and BT and partners – including Google, Samsung, MobileIron – the idea became a reality in just 10 days.

There are now 1,402 Android devices provided to 180 NHS hospitals across the UK, which have supported more than 100,000 video calls between families, patients and medical teams, accounting for over 710,000 call minutes.

Prof Rose said:

When we started Life Lines, we had no idea it would grow to such a large and sustained initiative, with so many people going to such lengths to keep families connected with their loved ones.
We have now reached another milestone of 100,000 family virtual visits. We are so grateful to everyone who has helped make this happen – we have brought comfort and relieved distress for thousands of families and patients across the UK.

Dr Meyer said:

Each Life Lines video call has been an essential connection that might otherwise not have happened between a family and their loved one in intensive care. Brilliant, dedicated staff have ensured that families stay connected during exceptional pandemic times.
Whilst Life Lines remains primarily a pandemic virtual visiting response, it has highlighted ways to digitally enhance intensive care. For instance, the Life Lines team is developing a programme to embed virtual visits into routine intensive care practice even after face-to-face visiting resumes.

Georgia spent almost seven months receiving treatment in two hospitals and a rehabilitation centre, and had to learn to walk and talk again. She said:

Mentally and physically I’m doing increasingly well and it’s testament to all the NHS staff who cared for me and continue to help me. Every single one of them is a huge part of me being here and my recovery. It feels like I have been in a bad film but with a good ending.

You can find out more about Life Lines here.