When Mary Sibley learned she had COVID-19, she wanted to recover as quickly as possible.

Her husband, Joe, was in the hospital with the virus. She hoped to be strong and healthy so she could care for him when he returned home.

To her relief, Mary’s doctor told her about monoclonal antibody treatment, which aims to boost the immune system’s ability to fight the virus.

A few days later, she arrived at a Spectrum Health outpatient clinic for an infusion of monoclonal antibody therapy.

The treatment, which has received federal emergency use authorization, delivers man-made proteins that act like human antibodies in the immune system—they seek out and kill the virus.

The treatment is available for patients 12 and older who are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 illness—such as those with chronic conditions.

“This is a great step forward,” said Gordana Simeunovic, MD, an infectious disease specialist leading antibody therapy treatments for Spectrum Health.

The goal of the treatment is to prevent the virus from progressing to severe illness.

“If it is given early, when the patient has a mild disease, there is a much higher chance the patient will recover quickly,” Dr. Simeunovic said.

Spectrum Health is among the top three hospitals in Michigan in delivering monoclonal antibody therapy to patients with COVID-19, she said.

More than 700 patients have received the therapy at the clinic, which is now at Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital. Of that group, 32 were hospitalized—only 28 of them for symptoms related to COVD-19.

Given the vulnerability of the patients treated, “the results are great,” Dr. Simeunovic said.

“This is a really powerful thing.”

She cited the latest national data for Regeneron’s antibody therapy, which shows it reduces hospitalization by 70%.

‘I think it helped’

Mary and Joe Sibley, a Grand Rapids couple, created Dot to Dot Braille Transcription service. Mary, who was born blind and is a teacher, translates documents into Braille.

She also works for the Grand Rapids Public Schools, assisting a vision-impaired student with online classes.

In late January, both Mary and Joe started to feel “tired and kind of draggy.”

Joe, a stroke survivor who receives dialysis, became weaker and ended up in the hospital with a possible infection. A test showed he had COVID-19.

“I went out the next day and got tested,” Mary said. “I found out I was positive.”

She also learned she was eligible for the monoclonal antibody treatment because of her diabetes and her age—she is 66.

Four days after her diagnosis, she received an infusion at the monoclonal antibody clinic, where patients receive Regeneron’s Casirivimab and Imdevimab.

The infusion takes about an hour. Patients remain under observation by the medical team for an hour afterward.

“It was fine,” Mary said. “I just watched TV for an hour and then went home.”

At the time, Mary had a cough and congestion, and she felt extremely tired.

About a week later, she lost her sense of taste and smell.

“I didn’t eat a lot during that time,” she said. “Even soda crackers tasted like cardboard. I lost about 35 pounds.”

Mary’s illness lasted two to three weeks. But she feels grateful her condition did not become more severe and that she could stay home and continue working.

“I think it wasn’t as bad because I had the antibodies,” she said. “I think it helped.”

Joe spent several weeks in the hospital and another two weeks in rehabilitation therapy before returning home.

Both have now received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Early treatment advised

Dr. Simeunovic hopes more patients will take advantage of the outpatient therapy—including children ages 12 to 17.

“If you meet the criteria for this, please come as soon as possible,” she said. “It is best if you come the first day you are diagnosed.”

Initially, most of the patients who received the treatment were 65 and older. But as older people become vaccinated, the medical team began seeing younger patients.

Patients are eligible if they have a risk factor for disease progression, such as:

  • Significant immunosuppression
  • Morbid obesity
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Heart disease
  • Lung disease
  • Age 65 or older