Antibody treatment showing promising results for local COVID-19 patients
Editor’s note: This story was edited to remove any speculation as to where exactly the subject of this story contracted COVID-19. That information is not known.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As one of the 30 COVID-19 patients who have received monoclonal antibody treatment at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, 67-year-old Steamboat Springs resident Pam Ford describes her experience as a miracle.
On Jan. 15, Ford was very surprised to learn she had contracted the virus.
Every Monday, Ford volunteers with a few other ladies at a local nonprofit. Other than that — and a bimonthly early morning trip to the grocery store and pharmacy — Ford has spent the pandemic at home with her three-legged cat.
She doesn’t walk around downtown but instead slows down a little to peer through storefronts from her car. When she is volunteering, she and the other ladies wear masks and use plenty of hand sanitizer.
Speaking with a nurse after testing positive, the best guess they could come up with was that Ford contracted it when she went into a bathroom and blew her nose.
“It’s the only time I took my mask off,” Ford said.
No one else was in the bathroom when she went in, Ford said, but the nurse told her, “’You went into the bathroom, and you don’t know who was in the bathroom before you. Never take your mask off — even in the bathroom. Go outside to blow your nose.’”
It wasn’t until about a week later — Jan. 12 — that Ford started feeling tired. On Jan. 13, she felt much worse.
“I was extremely exhausted,” she said. “I felt like somebody had their thumbs on the back side of my eyeballs trying to push them out.”
She called her doctor and was scheduled for a COVID-19 test.
She took the rapid antigen test Jan. 15 and was told there was no doubt she had COVID-19.
The nurses asked Ford if she was familiar with the monoclonal antibody treatment and if she would be open to getting it.
Ford said she knew the president had gotten an antibody treatment, but that was about it.
“I told the nurse, ‘If it keeps me out of the hospital, you bet,’ Ford said. ”I don’t want to go to the hospital. I don’t want to be a burden.”
Bamlanivimab, the name of the treatment made by Eli Lilly, received emergency-use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Nov. 9.
The company Regeneron has a very similar drug cocktail — casirivimab and imdevimab — that was granted emergency use authorization Nov. 21. Regeneron’s version of the monoclonal antibodies made headlines when it was administered in October to President Donald Trump through a compassionate use program.
Ford met the very specific parameters to apply for the bamlanivimab treatment, which requires approval from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. She got a call that same Friday to tell her she had an appointment for the infusion at 9 a.m. Monday.
From diagnosis to the treatment, Ford cannot say enough good things about the care she received from health care professionals. She repeatedly uses the words “sweet” and “precious” to describe all of the women who cared for her.
“I didn’t even know Steamboat had the antibodies,” she said.
The infusion took about an hour, and Ford waited another hour in observation.
“I had no problems at all,” she said. “I felt wonderful when I left.”
The treatment has shown to be most effective in people who are sick with COVID-19 and have underlying conditions but are not yet sick enough to be hospitalized and who don’t need oxygen therapy.
The drug is only authorized for people who are in a 10-day window of starting symptoms. Its label warns it could actually worsen outcomes in hospitalized patients who need oxygen or ventilation.
“They said I was a perfect candidate,” Ford said.
All 30 of the bamlanivimab recipients did well, said Wes Hunter, director of pharmacy at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. None were admitted to the hospital.
A few days after receiving the treatment, Ford said she had a sinus headache and didn’t feel well.
But by Friday, Jan. 22 — one week from testing positive — she was feeling fine, and better each day. By Jan. 27, she was hauling her trash bins down her long driveway and shoveling snow.
Because she was in relatively good health before getting the treatment, Ford said she felt a little guilty — that maybe someone else needed it more.
But she met the strict qualifications, including being at risk of severe disease. And at this time, Hunter said the hospital has enough to treat those who need it and receive approval from the state.
The hospital continues to have its supply replenished, he said, and if they were to run out, would be able to get it transferred from another UCHealth facility.
Across the country, there are some reports of the treatment being underutilized, but Hunter emphasized here in Steamboat, it is being utilized and with great results.
It’s the only thing available for mild-moderate disease, Hunter added.
“I truly feel it was a gift,” Ford said. A friend of hers told her she was in the right place at the right time. Ford answered, “Well I’d just assume give the glory to the Lord.”
While Ford had been just fine waiting until it was her turn for the COVID-19 vaccine, now she’s been told she should wait for three months.
She still wears a mask and is now even doubling up when she does go out, which still isn’t very often.
Ford’s isolation orders ended Jan. 23. She still can’t smell or taste, but it’s not uncommon for those senses to take longer to return.
“I lost five pounds, but it is not a diet plan I’d recommend,” she laughed.
For the most part, Ford is just grateful.
“The whole experience was like a miracle to me,” she said. “I felt so much better so quickly. I’m just going to keep counting my blessings.”
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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More COVID-19 booster shots are getting approved, health officials are saying people can mix or match the brand of these shots, and vaccines for children between 5 and 11 are closer than ever.