OTTAWA -- Irene Watpool knows exactly how important research is at the Ottawa Hospital. 

However, the Intensive Care Unit’s program manager of clinical trials is amazed at how readily COVID-19 patients, some of whom are very ill, buy in too.  Watpool says they readily sign on, even when there may be little or no benefit to themselves.

“It helps us for future patients and for future viruses that are similar to COVID-19.  We are so appreciative of everything they do.”

She admits the conversation about research sometimes initially adds another level of anxiety.  They worry about whether an experimental treatment will help them, or cause side effects, or whether they will end up in the control group.  But most agree not only to drug trials, but to non-interventional trials, giving blood in the hopes researchers will learn more about how COVID-19 affects us from the still small sample group of people who have been infected.

“We do a lot of studies where we’re collecting extra bloodwork, we’re looking at the immune response. For those, there is no actual benefit to the patient and yet they’re letting us take swabs without hesitation.”

She says she is inspired by their resilience.  “They’re saying they want to help.”

Watpool has been doing research for 20 years. She says she loves knowing that even if she cannot help that patient, she may be helping a future patient.

“That’s what drives me in a career is to be very involved in the front lines in an emergency ICU.”

The COVID-19 experience has been unique.  She says there is a real sense that they are all in this together.

“They really have a sense of doing this not just for them, but for everybody that’s been affected by this disease,” Watpool says.

“And as inspiring as it is, it’s also heartbreaking.  Because, despite what we do, patients do get sicker and some of them die.

Watpool says that is the toughest part of this disease.  In her years at the ICU the typical experience is that a patient comes in to that department very sick.  They may die or they may improve.  But in this case, previously healthy individuals come into the hospital and then quickly deteriorate, wracked by COVID-19.

“In this disease, it’s a bit backward.  They come in, they are doing okay.  Then all of a sudden they start to deteriorate.  They end up in ICU.  They end up on a ventilator.  And some of them don’t recover.  I find that very, very heartbreaking.  Because I knew them when they were not that unwell.”

Research may be the key to changing that type of progression and outcome.  It is what this veteran nurse is working for every day, inspired by the patients who stepping up to help make it happen.