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'It saved my life': COVID-19 patients and doctors praising drug meant to neutralize the virus

With the largest number of doses in Florida, Lakeland Regional Health doctors say a monoclonal antibody treatment is helping patients stay out of the hospital.

POLK COUNTY, Fla. — As cases and hospitalizations continue to rise, doctors around Tampa Bay are using a new COVID-19 drug to keep patients out of the hospital.

The antibody cocktail from Eli Lilly is called bamlanivimab. It's helping treat recently diagnosed patients who are high-risk.

"It is an IV therapy that we administer. It's different from many of the other COVID therapies that we've had in the past in that this is the first drug that we've had that is meant for outpatients. It's not for people once they're sick enough to be in the hospital. That actually excludes them from getting a drug," Dr. Hal Escowitz, the Chief Quality Officer at Lakeland Regional Health said. 

Lakeland Regional Health has Florida's largest supply of the drug. Of the 38 patients treated at the hospital so far, only one has been admitted. That's a game-changer since hospital beds have been filling up in Polk County, around the state, and across the country.

"I think this is potentially a very lifesaving treatment," Dr. Escowtiz said.

One of the patients crediting the drug for saving his life is a 60-year-old veteran who tested positive two weeks ago. Knowing he has significant comorbidities, he and his girlfriend knew the virus could be deadly.

"In my 24 years of service, I was never afraid of anything. This is the only thing that put fear in me was catching this thing. I did everything, everything possible not to get this," Thomas Sheridan said.

Sheridan was diagnosed with COVID-19 on November 21st. He had extreme body aches, headaches, fever and more.

"I felt like I was hit by a truck. The rapid test lit up like a Christmas tree and in a few seconds, they were like, 'Yep, you got it,'" Sheridan said.

 As his symptoms got worse, his longtime girlfriend searched for anything on the internet that might help. Her goal to find a treatment similar to that of President Donald Trump.

She found bamlanivimab but saw it was only available at two hospitals out of their area in Palm Beach Gardens. After finding out Sheridan met the criteria to get the treatment, the couple drove three hours to Lakeland Regional Health. It took an hour to administer and Sheridan says he was on the road to recovery. The treatment saved his life.

"I was scared to death. I thought I was going to be one of those that go into the emergency room and end up on a ventilator. This may be something new and things may not be known about it yet, but it was worth the risk in my book," Sheridan says. 

While some have reported headaches as a common side effect, Sheridan said the infusion left a bruise on his arm but no other side effects.

A list of criteria for receiving bamlanivimab can be found here. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 and meets the above criteria is encouraged to ask their primary care provider about the treatment. 

For help at Lakeland Regional Health, healthcare providers can call 863.687.1100, Extension 2534, for more information and to refer a patient.

Parents of COVID-19 patients ages 12 to 17 who have questions about bamlanivimab can call 863.687.1100, Extension 3157. While adult patients who meet the high-risk criteria and have tested positive for COVID-19 can call 863.687.1100, Extension 1693.

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