A COVID-19 treatment success story in Wagner

KELOLAND.com Original

The drug Bamlanivimab, the first antibody drug to help the immune system fight COVID-19. Antibodies are made by the immune system to fight the virus but it can take several weeks after infection for the best ones to form. This and a Regeneron medication aim to help right away, by supplying concentrated doses of one or two antibodies that worked best in lab tests. (Courtesy of Eli Lilly via AP)

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — In the middle of a snowstorm, health care workers in Wagner rose to the occasion. 

After detecting positive coronavirus cases in the local Good Samaritan Society nursing home, located two blocks up the street, frontline workers from the Wagner Community Memorial Hospital sprung to action. Dressed to combat both the harsh weather elements and the deadly COVID-19 virus, nurses and doctors were also armed with a newly, emergency-approved monoclonal antibody — Bamlanivimab, simply known as BAM. 

“We literally picked up our IV poles. People had coats on over their hazmat suits and walked a block-and-half to administer it there,” Bryan Slaba, CEO of Wagner Community Memorial Hospital, said. Slaba added it didn’t make sense for some of the nursing home residents to leave the facility for a two-hour procedure that occurs with the administration of BAM. 

Wagner Community Memorial Hospital CEO Bryan Slaba

Working with the Wagner Good Samaritan Society — 31 doses of BAM were given, which resulted in 29 recoveries, according to Slaba. Comparing the outcome to nationwide data, where the COVID-19 fatality rate has been around 40%, Slaba said the BAM therapy was “amazing.”  

Slaba said Wagner received its first shipment of BAM from Avera on a Thursday, started using the antibody therapy on a Friday and by Saturday, the first patient was “feeling like Superman.” 

As of Tuesday, the Wagner hospital had been involved in more than 90 doses of BAM and 89 of the people receiving it — ages 50 to 104 — are still alive. Slaba said there’s very little side effect and it gives the most-vulnerable people a chance against COVID-19 if administered early.  

“Our focus was on our community,” Slaba said. “We turned it around in 24 hours and the results speak for themselves.” 

On Tuesday, Gov. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) highlighted these specific efforts in Wagner. She acknowledged Slaba during her State of the State address in the House chamber at the Capitol.  

“Just before Christmas, the CEO of Wagner Community Memorial Hospital shared some really outstanding news about the work his team has been doing,” Noem said, calling BAM “an out-patient, innovative COVID-19 therapy to treat patients.”  

As of Wednesday, the South Dakota Department of Health was reporting Charles Mix County has had 14 COVID-19 deaths, with 1,171 positive cases, 1,095 recovered cases and 62 active cases. 

“It can save lives,” Slaba said, adding Gov. Noem plans to continue encouraging the use of the BAM treatment for nursing home facilities. 

On Wednesday’s weekly media briefing, DOH Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said she was proud of how much health care systems have embraced therapeutics across the state. 

Malsam-Rysdon noted she’s heard many success stories with various therapeutics, including BAM. 

State epidemiologist Dr. Joshua Clayton praised Bamlanivimab for the “huge” impact it provides in shortening COVID-19 patients’ stay in hospital as well as keeping patients out of the hospital entirely. 

Slaba emphasized quick and early COVID-19 testing combined with BAM is a combination all small communities in South Dakota should embrace. He said the Wagner hospital will continue to keep 10-12 doses of BAM on hand at all times. 

While excited about the positive news from the BAM treatments of COVID-19 patients, Slaba stressed the vital role frontline health care workers continue to play in the pandemic. 

“Us pencil pushing geeks can do all we want, but they are the true heroes,” Slaba said. “Thank you, thank you, thank you for following your compassion and following your mission. Without them, none of this would happen. If they don’t do it, none of this happens.” 

What is Bamlanivimab? 

Bamlanivimab, simply known as BAM by health care officials, is a monoclonal antibody that is specifically directed against the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, designed to block the virus’ attachment and entry into human cells. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization in early November. According to the FDA, monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful antigens such as viruses.

Safety and effectiveness continues to be investigated with BAM. Slaba said plenty of man-power and time (roughly two hours) is needed to properly administer the treatment. 

“Is it daunting? Absolutely,” Slaba said. “You have to watch them physically for two hours. But you are saving lives.”

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KELOLAND News is covering the Coronavirus outbreak. We have created a guide to everything you need to know to prepare. We also have the latest stories from across the globe feeding into this page.