Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City is delivering an experimental treatment to outpatients with COVID-19 that aims to aid in their recovery and prevent hospitalization.
The FDA approved an emergency use authorization for the monoclonal antibody treatment bamlanivimab, commonly referred to as BAM, in November. Mercy began using the treatment for mild to moderate COVID-19 patients as soon as it was made available. Patients initially were treated in the emergency department, but Mercy now has a formal outpatient treatment center reserved specifically for COVID-19 patients needing BAM.
Providers refer patients for BAM treatment after a positive COVID-19 test if they meet certain criteria including:
- Body mass index greater than 35
- Chronic kidney disease
- Immunosuppressive disease
- Currently receiving immunosuppressive treatment
- Age 65 or older
- Age 55 or older AND diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, hypertension or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease/other chronic respiratory disease.
Sasha Brayton is 42 years old, has two co-morbidities and takes a weekly medication that suppresses her immune system. Five days after her first COVID-19 symptoms, Brayton woke up with high fever, body aches and a dangerously elevated resting heart rate.
“I felt like I had run a marathon,” Brayton said. “My blood oxygen was low and dropped anytime I tried to move or get up and it made me feel a little panicked.”
Brayton’s husband drove her to the emergency department at Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City where she works as a nurse manager of a medical surgical unit, one of the COVID-19 units at the hospital. At the time, BAM had just been approved by the FDA and Brayton was one of the first patients at the hospital to receive the treatment.
“I was experiencing shortness of breath, and considering my medical history, my doctor felt I’d be a good candidate,” Brayton said.
A few days later, Brayton began to feel much better and her symptoms started to improve.
“We are really seeing a benefit for patients who get this treatment early in their illness,” said Dr. John Harkess, infectious disease physician at Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City. “In the simplest terms, these artificial antibodies jump-start your immune system and give you antibodies before your body has a chance to make them.”
After treatment, patients must continue to self-isolate and use infection control measures including wearing a mask, social distancing, avoiding sharing of personal items, cleaning and disinfecting high touch surfaces and frequent hand washing until they have been cleared by their physician.
Brayton first tested positive for COVID-19 in November but is still experiencing symptoms today. She’s considered what’s called a “long hauler” as she continues to manage symptoms more than three months later. Brayton is back at work, where she leads a team of nurses caring for hospitalized patients and credits BAM with preventing her from becoming one of them.
“A few days after my infusion, I remember just feeling so grateful to be alive,” said Brayton. “While I still have some occasional shortness of breath and chest pain, it continues to get better with time.”
Once ordered by a provider, the treatment is scheduled and coordinated directly with the patient. When patients arrive at the hospital, they call the outpatient BAM infusion center and a nurse comes to escort them directly to the infusion room, a separate space reserved for COVID-19 patients on the hospital’s first floor. The process takes about three hours, including paperwork and an observation period after the one-hour infusion. More than 100 patients have received BAM transfusion at Mercy and less than 6% still required hospitalization.
If you think you might be a candidate for BAM, please reach out to your physician to inquire about your eligibility.