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Mother, 45, ill with coronavirus makes miraculous recovery with help from arthritis drug ‘anakinra’

A mother who was in a coma and given three days to live after contracting coronavirus has made a miraculous recovery with help from an experimental drug.

The family of Claire Haythorne, 45, from Hillsborough, Sheffield, said they had been through the ‘hardest two months’ of their lives.

She contracted the virus at the start of November but relatives are now looking forward to welcoming her home again.

After weeks in a coma, doctors at Northern General Hospital in Sheffield decided to try the drug anakinram, which is normally used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, on Mrs Haythorne as a ‘last resort’.

Medics told her family at the time she had three days to live. The effects were almost instantaneous and Mrs Haythorne is now on the road to recovery.

A mother who was in a coma and given three days to live after contracting coronavirus has made a miraculous recovery with help from an experimental drug

She is set to head home in the coming fortnight to her children Leah, 18, and Jordan, 22, and her husband Tariq.

It’s been something of a harsh wake up call for the family, who were initially sceptical of how bad the effects of the virus would be on them.

Mrs Haythorne, a care worker at Loxley Park Care Home, found out she had the virus through one of the mandatory tests she had every week at the start of November.

She didn’t display symptoms at the time but went home to isolate.

Her daughter, Leah Haythorne, said: ‘She was alright to quarantine for two weeks. On Friday she got in bed and by Sunday 8 November, she’d lost all the colour in her face. 

‘You couldn’t recognise her. Then Monday she got rushed into hospital. That was the last time we saw her.’

The family of Claire Haythorne (pictured above with her daughter Leah and son Jordan), 45, from Hillsborough, Sheffield, said they had been through the 'hardest two months' of their lives

The family of Claire Haythorne (pictured above with her daughter Leah and son Jordan), 45, from Hillsborough, Sheffield, said they had been through the ‘hardest two months’ of their lives

Mrs Haythorne continued to deteriorate rapidly while in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Northern General Hospital and was placed in an induced coma on November 12.

Leah said: ‘Her kidneys and lungs were proper bad. She was needing lots of oxygen.’

After weeks of trying various cures, on December 3 doctors decided to start giving her the drug anakinra – also known by the brand name Kineret. 

Leah said: ‘The doctors said it was a last resort.

‘December 8 was my brother’s birthday and that’s the day she made the most improvement. By December 11 she was awake.

‘They started slowly reducing the medication and she slowly started to wake up. 

‘She started by reacting to her name and moving her arm and then she woke up.

‘When she went on the medication they’d given her three days to live.

They’d said if it didn’t work they won’t know what to do next.

‘It was just a waiting game. Literally waiting day in and day out.’

She contracted the virus at the start of November but relatives are now looking forward to welcoming her home again

She contracted the virus at the start of November but relatives are now looking forward to welcoming her home again

Anakinra, sold under the brand name Kineret, is normally sold to treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis

Anakinra, sold under the brand name Kineret, is normally sold to treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis 

The family became increasingly supportive of each other while Claire was going through treatment, with Leah saying: ‘It’s made me and my brother reyt [right] close.

‘We didn’t know what we had until it was taken away from us.’

Leah said the family got to speak to Claire remotely on Christmas Day and the doctor who prescribed the medication described her recovery as a ‘little Christmas miracle’.

Leah got to see her mother – who is now off all her medication and oxygen – on Saturday which was the first time since she was taken to hospital.

After weeks of trying various cures, on December 3 doctors decided to start giving her the drug anakinra - also known by the brand name Kineret. Pictured: Mrs Haythorne with her daughter Leah

After weeks of trying various cures, on December 3 doctors decided to start giving her the drug anakinra – also known by the brand name Kineret. Pictured: Mrs Haythorne with her daughter Leah

Mrs Haythorne was rushed to hospital after contracting the virus in November and deteriorating rapidly

Mrs Haythorne was rushed to hospital after contracting the virus in November and deteriorating rapidly

Leah said: ‘When she came round the corner I was gobsmacked. I couldn’t believe it was her.

‘I can’t put into words what it felt like. It was overwhelming. It’s been the hardest two months.’

No-one else in the family tested positive for the virus while Claire came down with it.

But Leah said the experience had been a rude awakening for the family, who had been dismissive of the virus initially.

Leah said: ‘At first when my mum was in bed we were like: “Come on mum, it can’t be that bad”. We never thought it would affect her the way it has.

‘We didn’t think it was as serious as my mum has had it. She had no health problems and it’s not like she’s old.’  

What is anakinra? 

Anakinra, sold under the brand name Kineret, is normally sold to treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

Anakinra belongs to a class of drugs called interleukin-1 inhibitors that could help regulate a dangerous overreaction to the virus by the body’s immune system.

The overreaction, which only occurs in some patients, is called a cytokine storm. 

These so-called storms occur when the body doesn’t just fight off the virus but also attack its own cells and tissues.

A research paper published in the Lancet medical journal in August described the results of one study into the drug as ‘very interesting’.  

And researchers in a study performed in Italy found that more than 70 per cent of patients treated with the drug showed improvements in their breathing and reduced signs of inflammation.

For the 21-day Italy study, published in The Lancet Rheumatology, the team observed 45 critically ill COVID-19 patients at San Raffaele. 

Of those patients, 29 received standard care – which included a CPAP machine for breathing, hydroxychloroquine and lopinavi/ritonavir (an HIV drug) – as well as anakinra given via an IV.

The remaining 16 patients received standard care only, which occurred before the study period.

Nearly three-quarters of the 29 patients – 72 percent – showed improved respiratory health and reduced signs of cytokine storms.

They also had lower levels of serum C-reactive protein, which is made by the liver and sent to the bloodstream in response to inflammation. Survival was 90 percent.

By comparison, the group of 16 had either persistent or recurrent increases of serum C-reactive protein levels. 

Respiratory function improved for just half of the patients  and 56 percent survived. 

‘Our study is the first to suggest that a high dose of the arthritis drug anakinra may be able to block the overreaction of the immune system caused by COVID-19,’ Dr Guilo Cavalli, an internal medicine specialist at San Raffaele, said.

‘The results are interesting and the drug deserves controlled testing in large randomized trials.’ 

Outside experts said the findings from the study were interesting but that a much larger study was required.

‘This is a rapid study undertaken in unusual circumstances and to gain a quick impression about whether this ant-arthritis treatment might be beneficial in seriously ill patients for whom there is currently no treatment,’ said Dr John R Kirwan, Emeritus Professor of Rheumatic Diseases at the University of Bristol in the UK. 

‘It looks like the patients getting the treatment had a slightly better outcome – but they were also (on average) eight years younger, and this could just as easily have been the explanation.’ 


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