Hours away from being put on ventilator, COVID-19 patient is saved by experimental treatment

Updated: May. 28, 2020 at 7:03 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Doctors at the Carolina Pines Regional Medical Center in the Pee Dee say an experimental COVID-19 treatment being tested there has been one of the first signs of hope in the fight against this virus.

This an update to a story we brought you a little over a week ago on News 10 Sunrise.

The hospital has been monitoring a group of COVID-19 patients being treated with two novel coronavirus treatments.

The first, Remdesivir, was recently authorized by the FDA for emergency use only. It’s said to insert itself into the virus and stop it from replicating.

Carolina Pines is also testing out the effectiveness of what’s called a Therapeutic or Total Plasma Exchange (TPE). This is slightly different from the standard plasma treatments currently being tested on some COVID-19 patients. With a TPE, the patient’s plasma is completely removed before being replaced with what’s called convalescent plasma, which comes from a patient who has already recovered from COVID-19.

This process has also been used in the past to treat other life-threatening infections.

Tammy Hatchell was one of the first Carolina Pines patients to receive a Total Plasma Exchange. Earlier this month, she says several members of her family came down with a fever, several days apart, after she believes one of her daughters was exposed to the coronavirus while at work.

The mother of three and grandmother of six went to the hospital to be tested and was sent home, but a few days later she was taken to the hospital by ambulance when she says her symptoms got worse.

“It was like a fish out of water, couldn’t breathe. I had loss of taste, smell, the diarrhea with it, the nausea, worried about all my children too, and not being able to breathe and thinking I’m not going to be here anymore,” said Hatchell.

It was once she returned to the hospital that it was confirmed she had tested positive for coronavirus.

Carolina Pines chief medical officer, Dr. Brian Sponseller says, “She was one of the first, here, that we ran with the plasma exchange. She was within hours – it was imminent that she would be requiring a ventilator.”

The CMO says, within hours of receiving the TPE, Hatchell began to show signs of improvement. Within days, there was also significant improvement in her chest x-rays.

Dr. Sponseller said the results have not been as successful with their Redemsivir trials.

“With the Remdesivir, I think the patients probably just got it too late. I haven’t seen anything really promising come out of that, yet. The Total Plasma Exchange has probably been the most positive for us and we’ve used it on several patients now.”

Hatchell says she’s come a long way and that the, “plasma really helped me and I started feeling better and better and better. They took me out of ICU, put me back in a regular room. I’ve been sitting up. I can get up by myself.”

She’s been in the hospital since May 9, and even spent her 50th birthday there, May 14. Hatchell says she did have some underlying conditions before contracting the virus because of a heart condition, but says she does not drink or smoke.

Hatchell says she’s lost weight, and will need to focus on regaining strength in her muscles and lungs, but doctors say, soon, she will no longer need any oxygen assistance and could be headed home as soon as Thursday or Friday.

Dr. Sponseller also says that even patients who have recovered can still test positive for COVID-19.

He says these patients, including Hatchell, will be treated as positive for their entire hospital stay. This means they are kept in isolation and hospital staff continues to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) around these patients.

Dr. Sponseller says this is because even as patients show improvement in their symptoms, it’s still not clear how long a person is contagious.

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