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Your Healthy Family: COVID-19: ask your doctor questions and advocate for yourself

Posted at 5:29 PM, Mar 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-04 19:37:57-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — For the last couple of days in Your Healthy Family, we've been learning about a Colorado Springs man and his battle and recovery with COVID-19. Dr. John Fleming is a Colorado Springs psychiatrist and an M.D. When he came down with COVID-19 in December, he became a patient. He had several virtual visits with his primary care doctor who advised him to rest, stay hydrated and closely monitor his blood oxygen levels.

A friend who was checking in on him over the phone recommended Fleming ask about getting a monoclonal antibody treatment.

Like many, Dr. Fleming was generally healthy and active but had some pre-existing health conditions that put him at high-risk of suffering severe symptoms from COVID-19.

Dr. Fleming says, “I am high-risk for two things. I'm in my 70s and I'm overweight and on top of that, I have high blood pressure. It (COVID-19) was a real struggle for me, and I was scared. But compared to what's happened to lots of people, my case was still mild.”

Dr. Fleming received the Eli Lilly monoclonal antibody drug Bamlanivimab at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central. According to the FDA’s emergency use authorization FAQ section, “Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-produced molecules engineered to serve as substitute antibodies that can restore, enhance or mimic the immune system's attack on pathogens. Bamlanivimab is designed to block viral attachment and entry into human cells, thus neutralizing the virus.”

Although Dr. Fleming has recovered from COVID-19, he knows that receiving a vaccination is still important. “My recovery was prompted by this antibody produced - not by my body - but produced by the production process and given to me, so I don't really know what my current ability is to fight off an infection. I think they believe the artificial antibody protects you for about 90 days, which is why they don't want you getting the vaccine during that 90 days. The only real consequence of getting the Bamlanivimab according to the CDC is that you have to wait 90 days before you can get vaccinated, so I haven't yet gotten my vaccine yet. My case of COVID would be considered mild, but it was a real struggle for me, and I was scared, and I do plan to get my vaccine as soon as I am eligible.”

If you have high pre-existing conditions that put you at high risk for hospitalization from COVID-19 and you test positive and your doctor doesn't mention monoclonal antibodies as an option, should you ask yourself? Dr. Fleming says absolutely. “I do think as patients we have to advocate for ourselves and it's hard when you're sick, it's hard when you're confused and tired. In my case just saying to my doctor, ‘Is there anything I can do or should do?’ didn't result in somebody offering me the monoclonal antibodies. I had to say. ‘What about the antibodies? Are they available here?' That's when they took over and did a great job.”

Finally, if you have concerns about these drugs that are under emergency use authorization from the FDA, and you find yourself testing positive with COVID, don’t wait until you have to go to the hospital to be proactive and beat the virus.

Dr. Fleming hopes others will take some comfort from his experience. “My advice would be: Here is a new treatment that caused no pain whatsoever and immediately allowed me to begin getting better. I would definitely ask for it (monoclonal antibodies). I just think in my case and based on what I've read in other cases, for me it really turned the corner.”

While we will never know for sure how sick Dr. Fleming may have gotten, or if he really would have needed to be hospitalized, he knows getting Bamlanivimab was a game changer. “Let's say I hadn't taken the Bamlanivimab, and let's say I never got sick enough to go to the hospital - which is certainly a possibility. I would say at the rate I was going I probably would have been sick for another month or so. As it was, I was out of commission for about three weeks. After I got back, I was still tired and not at full strength for another month. I think that would've been extended by a month or six weeks longer, even if I never had to go to the hospital. So, I think it was good for me to do it and I've recommended it to everybody. I came down with COVID on December 14th, I asked for it on the 21st and it took a couple days to get all the processes of getting it scheduled and I got my infusion around the 23rd.”

In our next story we'll talk more about how the monoclonal antibody drugs available here in southern Colorado have been improved since Dr. Fleming got his infusion in December.

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