PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Terry and Liz Hart both tested positive for COVID-19 in November. Soon they both had a fever. That’s when they learned Terry qualified for monoclonal antibodies, an intravenous treatment for COVID-19.
“It was just like giving blood,” Terry said of the roughly hour-long transfusion. “Instead of taking it, they were giving it.”
The treatment served as a proverbial fork in the road for Liz and Terry’s path to recovery.
“I was 100%,” he said. “I was out there doing all the yard work, caulking a couple windows that needed caulking… meanwhile she’s sitting on the couch.”
“It’s like, not fair,” Liz said with a laugh.
Thankfully both made a full recovery. The Harts are grateful that roughly a year into the pandemic, there are effective treatments available.
“It’s reassuring to myself and my wife, especially at our age, that there’s something out there,” Terry said. “Something to combat it.”
Lifespan’s Director of Systemwide Critical Care Medicine, Dr. Mitchell Levy, said it is remarkable how far treatment and understanding of COVID-19 have come since March of 2020.
“In the beginning we were just learning about this terrible illness,” he said. “We really had no good therapeutic intervention for the first eight months, and so in the beginning we were using mainly supportive care.”
“It was the blind leading the blind to be honest,” he said.
Levy said they found early on that COVID-19 is first and foremost a respiratory illness.
“There is no question that the entry point of the virus is at the back of the throat, and then later on after about seven to 10 days it goes into the lower respiratory tract,” he said.
After those 10 days, Levy said the virus can begin to impact the rest of the body.
Levy said it was a pivotal discovery when they determined the effectiveness of Dexamethasone in improving not only symptoms, but survival.
“That’s after many drugs were found to have failed,” he said. “That was a big step, that we learned that simple steroids once a day for ten days made a difference in survival.”
The next pivotal treatment was the monoclonal antibodies like Terry received. Levy said those help prevent people from having a more serious reaction and ending up in the hospital.
“These are monoclonal antibodies that fight the virus that’s in the blood in patients before they get sick and have been shown – the combination of these antibodies – to reduce the likelihood of hospitalization,” he said.
Steve Creta sought out the monoclonal antibodies more than week after he first tested positive.
“I was teetering at that time,” he said. He had a fever and sniffles and then difficulty breathing.
The day after his infusion, his oxygen levels were dipping and he went to the emergency room. He spent two nights at the Cranston field hospital and was discharged after receiving the antiviral drug remdesivir. He made a full recovery, but wonders what might have happened if he got sick months ago, before these treatments had come to light.
“I’m thinking if these things weren’t available, I would have been in trouble,” he said. “I’ve lost some friends that were on respirators. Close friends. I could have been one of them, but I wasn’t.”
In addition to effective treatments, Levy said it’s remarkable that there are multiple vaccines, some that are 95% effective.
“Put that in the context of the simple flu vaccine that so many of us get is only 55% effective,” he said. “To have a vaccine that is 95% effective in less than a year is just astonishing.”
Levy said this shows what can be accomplished with the right amount of resources and funding.
“If we take the lessons learned from our response to COVID-19 they may well apply to other diseases that we’ve been very frustrated by in the past,” he said.