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St. Luke’s treats 500th COVID patient with monoclonal antibodies

St. Luke’s University Health Network has announced its 500th COVID-19 outpatient has been infused with monoclonal antibodies.

Monoclonal antibody therapy at St. Luke’s has helped all Lehigh Valley hospitals avoid being overwhelmed during the current surge, allowing certain high-risk patients to recover quickly in the comfort of their own homes.

Granted emergency authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, monoclonal antibodies block the virus’ attachment and entry into human cells.

Infusion has been found to be particularly effective in preventing the need for hospitalization in select, higher-risk patients including those who are 65 years of age or older and whose infection, identified early, does not yet require supplemental oxygen.

Joe Kitchell, a part-time paramedic in New Jersey happily said he is proof-positive the BAM monoclonal antibody works.

“I feel great,” he said recently, “And, lucky to have gotten the treatment.”

Kitchell, 52, came down with COVID-19 symptoms on Christmas Day 2020.

His fever, cough, headache and body aches alerted the veteran first responder that he was COVID sick, and a test confirmed that two days later.

But within less than a week, through his web of professional work connections in the medical field, Kitchell received an infusion of the Eli Lilly monoclonal antibodies at the St. Luke’s Easton Campus.

The next morning, he was feeling better already: headache gone, increased energy but still with a slight cough, as he has asthma.

The Bethlehem Township resident is back to transporting patients to St. Luke’s Easton for various illness and injuries - including scores of critically ill with COVID - and grateful to St. Luke’s and his medical friends who encouraged him and arranged for his monoclonal antibody infusion.

“I think it’s a great treatment and give St. Luke’s a lot of credit for opening infusion centers in the community,” Kitchell said.

St. Luke’s began using monoclonal antibodies, which received emergency use authorization from the FDA, just before Thanksgiving 2020 in its Easton and Warren, N.J., facilities.

Wilda Cortez-Sanchez, of Allentown, was back to cooking and cleaning just a few days after having her treatment with the Lilly antibody at St. Luke’s Easton in early January.

Her fever was gone and her energy, smell and taste and appetite had returned.

“I feel very good. The virus is gone,” said Cortez-Sanchez, whose mother and husband also contracted the illness.

Her primary care physician, Pavel Terreros MD, had referred his patient to the hospital’s infusion center for the treatment, as he has with more than 20 of his other patients from his downtown Allentown office.

“Everyone who had the infusion improved within 24-48 hours after treatment and no one was hospitalized,” he said.

“It’s really working.”

Infectious disease specialist Peter Ender MD, who helps run the COVID-19 treatment programs at St. Luke’s, commented.

“Monoclonal antibodies are an important outpatient therapy that we know has benefit in keeping people out of the hospital,” Ender said.

Unlike St. Luke’s, many hospitals in Pennsylvania and across the country have not taken full advantage of their allocations of monoclonal antibodies.

PRESS PHOTO COURTESY SLUHN Joe Kitchell, a part-time paramedic in New Jersey, says he is proof-positive the BAM monoclonal antibody works after receiving the treatment.