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Democratic state rep. explains why she opted for unproven COVID-19 treatment, not hospital

(WJRT)
Published: Apr. 7, 2020 at 11:23 PM EDT
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(04/07/20) - Michigan State Representative Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit) was sick for weeks before she was officially diagnosed with COVID-19.

She had a relentless headache and what she described as an “uncomfortable” and “weird” throat. She didn’t have a fever, and she could smell and taste. A loss of some of those senses have been reported by other coronavirus victims.

Whitsett, and one of the doctors who initially treated her, thought she had a sinus infection.

They were wrong. Her illness reached a breaking point on March 31, which happened to be the same day she took the COVID-19 test. She had already been in quarantine with her husband (who was also sick) since March 12.

”It was just out of nowhere, like, you literally had no time to think,” Whitsett said.

Whitsett described the moment her lungs filled with fluid and took her breath away. She did not want to go to the hospital, which may have been fruitless anyway because she says the two near her Detroit home were full. She also didn’t like the idea of being by herself.

"You go to the hospital, you're going with no one,” she said. "All I could think of is...if I go in here, I may not come out."

The first term representative asked the doctor who wrote her the prescription to take the COVID-19 test if he would prescribe her with hydroxychloroquine. It’s a disease-modifying agent and an anti-malaria drug that President Donald Trump has touted frequently as a treatment of the coronavirus, but the FDA says there is no proven treatment for COVID-19. Additionally, the

New York Times

recently

the president has a small financial stake in the company that produces the brand-name of the drug.

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”If he had not been pushing it on a federal level, I would have not had access to it, and I would not be alive today,” she said.

After one doctor denied her request for the drug, the Detroit Democrat turned to Dr. Mohammed Arsiwala.

Arsiwala runs Michigan Urgent Care and says he's had 56 COVID-19 positive patients at nine Detroit-area urgent care facilities. Those who are too sick must be treated in the hospital, but 12 of them, including Whitsett, have been treated with a combination of an antibiotic and hydroxychloroquine.

Arsiawala says his treatment protocol includes 12 pills of 200 mg of hydroxychloroquine over the course of five days. The protocol also includes the antibiotic Zithromax twice a day for five days.

“The FDA did state we're going to leave it [use of hydroxychloroquine] in the hands of the clinical providers,” Arsiwala said.

ABC12 asked the doctor about any danger/concerns associated with using a drug that has had no proven clinical trials to treat a novel virus.

"We are having this small cohort group of patients that are very sick that have cough, that have chest congestion and tightness. We don't want them to slip into a very significant illness so that they have to be put on a vent,” Arsiwala explained. ”With the significant shortage of ventilators in the hospitals and the critical care centers that are getting bottle-necked, I think it's very important for us to kind of try this out at least."

Whitsett says she started feeling better within two hours of taking the medicine, but maintains the choice to use the drug is up to you and your doctor. She had previous success with it while treating her Lyme disease.

"If you have an opportunity to receive something, and it's a choice between taking this pill and a machine to keep you breathing, you tell me what your choice would be,” Whitsett said.

While doctors can choose to use hydroxychloroquine for patients on a case by case basis, the FDA maintains there is no proven treatment for COVID-19. Additionally, the American College of Cardiology says it raises the risk of heart attack for some patients of dangerous irregular heartbeat.

The drug is also a treatment for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, but because of hoarding some people do not have access to this critical medication.

Arsiwala says there can be complications with long term use and high doses of the drug, but so far he has not had any complaints from his patients, including Rep. Whitsett.

She says the response she’s received from speaking about her experience has been mostly positive.

"Men and women crying and thanking me for speaking out and putting people over politics,” Whitsett said.

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