COVID-19 survivor believes clinical trial saved her life

A local COVID-19 survivor believes her role in the clinical trial of a treatment drug for the virus may have saved her life.

Kendra Wiggins, of DeLand, started coming down with symptoms of COVID-19 while dealing with another illness around Easter. 

By mid-April, Kendra said she was dealing with a nearly non-stop cough and breathing problems.

"I continued coughing to the point I was hyperventilating,” Kendra said.

The coughing got so bad one night her husband had to call 911 and have her rushed to the emergency room.

She said she wouldn’t return home for 15 days.

Kendra said she was immediately put in the COVID-19 isolation ward in DeLand as a precaution. 

She didn’t think she actually had the illness though.

Then, she said, her worst fears were confirmed as test results started to come in.

"On the day that I found out that I had it, I sat in the hospital bed and bawled like a baby,” Kendra said.

Dealing with asthma, she said her condition quickly declined in the coming days as she developed double pneumonia on top of COVID-19.

"I had to remind myself to breathe in and out,” she said Tuesday, recalling the ordeal. “It was so hard to breathe."

Kendra said several friends on Facebook who work in healthcare encouraged her to get into a clinical study into one of the drugs being tested for the illness.

After enough inquiring, she was able to get transferred to AdventHealth Orlando to enroll in a study of rheumatoid arthritis drug, Sarilumab.

Infectious Disease expert Dr. Jason Sniffen oversaw her progress. 

As a blind clinical study, he said there was a chance Kendra could get a placebo or a different dosing of the drug.

Kendra said she believes she did get the drug as she woke up after the first dose experiencing extreme heartburn.

Dr. Sniffin said he couldn’t say what she was administered in the study, but that, like many critically ill patients he had observed in it, she improved quickly.

"My impression is, my observation is, that these medicines seem to make a significant difference, especially in those patients who have impending repertory failure or who need the ventilator,” Dr. Sniffen said.

Some experts were unimpressed by the early study results of Sarilumab, but results did show promise for some critical patients

Kendra said in her case, she went from barely breathing to back on her feet in a short number of days.

"I am positive it was the drug. I feel like lots of people prayed for me to get the drug,” she said. "I'm alive. It saved my life."

Kendra said she has experienced some neurologic issues since her battle with COVID-19, but finally testing negative, she is back home and thankful for her chance to get that drug.

Dr. Sniffen says Kendra's study is one of about a half dozen drugs scientists are blind-studying at AdventHealth right now, hoping to find the best ways to save those critical COVID-19 patients.