PHOENIX (KPHO/KTVK) — Monoclonal antibody therapy can dramatically reduce the need for hospitalization from COVID-19 in some of the most at-risk populations, but only about a quarter of the doses that were shipped to hospitals across the country has been used.
The drug may have been the difference between life and death for an Ahwatukee family. Three members were infected. Two received the therapy and survived. One did not, and he died.
“Every inch of me thinks and knows that that treatment saved my life and my son’s life,” said Maureen Goldhair, who is my mother-in-law.
My family’s experience with COVID-19 started in mid-December, two days after my father-in-law’s 78th birthday.
“I had a doctor’s appointment and he came down and he said I can’t take you. I’m sick. I have chills. I don’t feel right,” said Maureen.
Cy and Maureen Goldhair moved to Phoenix from New York City in 1988. Cy had been the youngest sanitation superintendent in the city, and as a result, he retired from that job at age 42. “He was a people person. He loved helping people,” said Maureen. As a result, Cy took a job a Sky Harbor International Airport as a sky cap. He enjoyed the job and loved telling stories about celebrities and professional athletes he helped, when they flew into town.
Cy and Maureen had four children, two girls and two boys. Family has always been number one to them. So when Cy became ill, his family – my family, took it seriously. “I did know the seriousness of it. Did I think it was going to happen to my husband? No,” said Maureen.
Within a week, Cy was in the hospital with severe symptoms. Maureen and her son, Keith, also tested positive and were showing symptoms. That is when the family sprang into action.
The other son, Kris, is married to a doctor, who suggested monoclonal antibody therapy. President Trump had received the treatment when he became sick. And it is the only treatment approved for people in the high-risk population who have not been hospitalized.
The only catch is that patients need to get the infusion early on during an infection in order for it to work. Cy and Maureen’s daughters, Kari and Krista, reached out to two ER doctors they know who work for Banner Health, which is one of the few medical providers that provides the treatment in Arizona.
“Your family’s example is so hard. And what so many families have dealt with,” said Cheryl O’Malley, MD, who is one of those two doctors. O’Malley is the is a professor of internal medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine Phoenix, and has been trying to get the word out about monoclonal antibody therapy. “We need to add this to the arsenal of all the different things we’re trying,” said O’Malley.
But she has also been frustrated that patients who can benefit from it, and many primary care physicians do not know about it. All the while, the clock is ticking when high-risk people get infected. “This therapy, in order for it to be effective, needs to be given as early as possible, and definitely within those first 10 days,” said O’Malley.
“My primary care doctor knew nothing about it. Keith’s primary care doctor knew nothing about it,” said Maureen. “With Cy so sick as he was, I couldn’t afford any other grief for my family. I had to do everything I could,” she said.
Maureen and Keith received the monoclonal antibody therapy through Banner’s outpatient program. The IV dips takes about an hour. Then patients are required to stay for another hour for observation.
Both Maureen and Keith recovered from COVID. But we did not know about this treatment when Cy first became ill. Despite round-the-clock care by the doctors and nurses at Banner Desert Medical Center, Cy did not survive.
“This horrible virus attacked each one of his organs. And he fought. He fought hard. I know he did,” said Maureen.
We do not know if the monoclonal antibody treatment is what saved Maureen and Keith. Ten percent of people in high-risk categories require hospitalization from COVID, according to recent studies. But only three percent of those in that group who received either of the two monoclonal antibody therapies required hospitalization.
Before he died, Cy texted me and asked that I report a story on the struggle that doctors and nurses are going through, trying to care for the overwhelming number of COVID-19 patients flooding emergency rooms and ICUs.
Dr. Cheryl O’Malley says treatments like monoclonal antibody could help to reduce the flood, although it will also take more mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing.
Meantime, Cy’s family is left heartbroken by his loss. “Fifty two years together. It’s kind of hard to imagine what your life is going to be like,” said Maureen. “Seven grandchildren. We’ll just go on for them. And show them what it’s like to grieve and miss somebody so much,” she said.
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