Daughter’s desperate fight to get life-saving COVID-19 treatment for her parents

PITTSBURGH — The daughter of two Pittsburghers found herself in a desperate race against time to help them when both got COVID-19.

Lisa Siard lives in Knoxville, Tennessee; but her mother, Carol Barnes, who is 77, and her stepfather, bill Barnes, 80, live in Irwin.

“It’s heartbreaking when your mother calls you up and says, ‘I can’t breathe,’” Lisa said.

A chemistry teacher, Lisa is used to finding solutions, so she got to work, searching online for help. She discovered a promising treatment—monoclonal antibody infusions—recently approved for emergency use by the FDA. It was available through UPMC.

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“I knew there was help available near where they lived, but I couldn’t figure out how to get it,” Siard told 11 Investigates’ Angie Moreschi.

Doctor Refuses

One big problem stood in her way. Her parents’ doctor had never heard of it and refused to give them a referral to get it.

“He said, ‘Do you think I’m going to risk my medical license because somebody’s daughter calls and tells me to?” Lisa remembered.

Time was running out. Her mom and step-dad kept getting worse and you only have 10 days after the onset of symptoms to get the treatment.

“I was mad and I was frustrated,” Lisa said. “My mother was probably on day 7 or 8 by then.”

Desperate, and not willing to give up, Lisa wrote an email to UPMC pleading for help to convince the doctor.

Roz to the Rescue

Rozalyn Russell, manager of UPMC’s Monoclonal Antibody Program, received the email and responded immediately.

“The subject of her email ‘sick parents’ made me think of my own parents,” Russell said. “I could feel her anxiety and her desperation.”

Within two hours, Russell contacted the doctor and got him to agree to make the referral.

“He was just unaware of the monoclonal antibody infusions, so I explained it to him,” Russell said.

They scheduled the appointment for the very next day.

“The day I went in, I didn’t know if I was going to live or die,” Bill Barnes said.

Both he and his wife started feeling better within 24 hours.

“I think, for Bill, it saved his life!” Carol said with a huge smile.

“Saved my life, it sure did,” Bill added.

UPMC Monoconal Antibody Program

UPMC has been doing monoclonal antibody infusions since December, but, so far, it isn’t getting the number of patients it had hoped for such a promising treatment.

“The preliminary evidence does show it can prevent hospitalizations, which is important for patients,” said Dr. Ryan Bariola, co-director of the program.

The criteria to get the treatment are very specific. A patient must be high-risk, actively have COVID-19, and be within 10 days of having tested positive.

Once a patient gets a doctor’s referral and is approved, the process if easy. It’s a one-time infusion given at an out-patient clinic.

The monoclonal antibodies are mixed in with a bag of saline. The patient is hooked up to an IV, sits back in the chair for an hour while getting then infusion, and another hour to make sure there’s no bad reaction.

“When I got there, I just kept thinking, ‘This is a miracle that we’re even sitting here,’” Carol Barnes said, adding, “It was painless, quiet and peaceful.”

UPMC says about 700 patients have gotten the treatment since December. Most patients do well and start feeling better within a week or so.

Among the patients who have received the infusion, UPMC tells us preliminarily reports show that only 5-percent have had to go on to be hospitalized for COVID.

To put that in perspective, studies have shown about 10-percent of COVID-19 patients who received a placebo instead of the treatment went on to hospitalization.

Dr. Bariola says he is not ready to call it a miracle treatment, but the results are promising.

UPMC has established a number for doctors and patients to help educate them about the monoclonal antibody treatments and make it easier for those who qualify to sign up. That number is (866) 804-5251 or you can go to their website.

Giving Hope

Lisa Siard says she is grateful to UPMC, and especially Rozalyn Russell, for responding to her desperate email and helping her parents get the treatment.

“Thank you so much,” Lisa said, choking up, as she talked to Russell through a FaceTime call. “I can never thank you enough for what you did for my parents.”

And equally grateful to their daughter, were Lisa’s parents.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, precious daughter!” Carol Barnes said to Lisa. “We are so blessed to have you in our life.”