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A COVID-19 survivor from Oxford has told of the revelation that a scanning technique using xenon gas has indicated previously unseen damage to his lungs.

A portrait of Dr Tim Clayden in a garden.

Xenon Study Patient Case study: Dr Tim Clayden

A COVID-19 survivor from Oxford has told of the revelation that a scanning technique using xenon gas has indicated previously unseen damage to his lungs.

Dr Tim Clayden is taking part in a number of University of Oxford medical studies after being diagnosed with COVID-19 in March this year.

He is one of around 40 patients involved with research by Oxford and Sheffield universities, thought to be the first in Europe to use xenon gas with MRI scanning to identify impact on lung function as patients recover from COVID-19.

Dr Clayden describes the procedure as offering a before and after snapshot of lung function. A normal MRI scan is taken, and then the patient breathes in hyperpolarised xenon before another MRI is performed.

In a healthy lung, the xenon shows the lungs functioning and gases being transferred- this is clearly visible on the scan and is recorded in the images as a strong signal which shows up as a bright red, while damaged lungs are unable to transfer gases as well and where there is not transfer these show up with no signal- and appear 'dark'.

He said: "I could see vividly what a normal lung looks like – the xenon is picked up by the scan and shows bright red. My scan after xenon was completely dark.

"I'm part of other COVID-19 studies, and my lung function had come out as good, but quite clearly it isn't.

"I'm interested to know about the long-term clinical outcome for this apparent damage – is it irreversible or will it pass?"

The study aims to help answer this, and will follow up patients to see if the damage improves by itself and to help teams develop new research to consider possible treatments where the lung function doesn't improve.

Dr Clayden, aged 60, began noticing symptoms during mid March, and was initially diagnosed with pneumonia and treated with antibiotics.

He was admitted to John Radcliffe Hospital during the early hours of 25 March after he deteriorated and was struggling to breathe, where he was diagnosed with COVID-19. Dr Clayden was then discharged from hospital on 29 March, the day after his 60th birthday, and says he feels lucky to have avoided ICU.

"I had almost no cough, but couldn't breathe. I experienced a complete loss of taste and smell, and lost a stone in weight in 8 days. I continue to lose weight. My appetite and metabolism has completely changed."

Whilst he doesn't feel his breathing has been impacted, Dr Clayden does feel the long-term impact of COVID-19.

"In the beginning, I could only walk about 200 yards to the end of the road. I don't think I notice breathing difficulties, but fatigue and "brain fog" is a real issue. I've been back at work since the beginning of May, and I have to be really strict on hours. I schedule breaks during the mornings and make sure nothing is booked in after 4pm in the afternoon."

"My wife and team notice I can start to slur, although I have been completely off alcohol since I've had Covid. It isn't dramatic but it changes your life."

The study is funded by the NCIMI – (National Consortium of Intelligent Medical Imaging) and the University of Oxford, and will be linked to the national clinical follow up study PHOPSP-COVID.

Dr Fergus Gleeson, Professor of Radiology at University of Oxford, is leading on the study along with Professor Jim Wild, Professor of MR Physics at the University of Sheffield.

Dr Clayden added: "We've only known about this virus for 9 months. If people don't step up and provide data, it's going to take longer to understand how this virus works."