Judy Shannon felt confident she wouldn’t get sick from COVID-19.
The 65-year-old from Pittsburgh works in drug and alcohol addiction services and takes her health seriously. She received the COVID-19 vaccine in January and followed COVID-19 prevention guidelines.
Even after getting diagnosed with COVID-19 in July after a trip to Florida, she didn’t think her illness would become severe. But she was wrong.
“I’ve never been that sick in my life,” Judy says. “Can you imagine — the worst flu you’ve ever had, and it doesn’t go away? It’s ‘Groundhog Day’ every day, like that movie. You wake up, and it’s the same misery — you can’t get out of it, and there’s no escaping it. I felt so horrible every day.”
The symptoms drove Judy to seek treatment in the form of monoclonal antibodies. After getting an infusion in early August, her symptoms faded and she became healthy again.
She believes without the COVID-19 vaccine and the monoclonal antibody treatment, she would have died.
“It saved me,” she says.
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‘My Entire Body Was Hurting’
Judy has worked in drug and alcohol addiction services for more than 30 years, and she continued to work throughout the pandemic. Her work involves close contact with patients, but she followed COVID-19 protocols like masking, sanitizing, and physically distancing as much as possible.
“We kept going because the worst thing you can do for addicts or alcoholics is isolating them,” Judy says.
She also felt confident because of her COVID-19 vaccine. However, she was also taking an immunosuppressive medication.
Judy took a short trip to Florida in July — a trip she also made last year. The day after she returned, she began feeling ill with intermittent flu-like symptoms.
“My entire body was hurting,” Judy says. “All my joints, everything hurt. I felt so dreadfully sick, and I started to cough. My esophagus was on fire.
“I was just downing antacids, and I was thinking, ‘Am I having a heart attack?’ It was ebbing and flowing, and I just thought, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ It was very strange like that.”
Judy visited a UPMC Urgent Care office, where staff tested her for COVID-19. The test came back positive.
When the UPMC Urgent Care clinician called Judy with the news of her positive test, she mentioned a potential treatment option: monoclonal antibodies.
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‘The Most Phenomenal Care of My Entire Life’
Monoclonal antibodies are a promising treatment for COVID-19. They act like our body’s naturally occurring antibodies, but scientists create them in the lab. When given shortly after infection, they significantly reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19.
Judy had never heard of the treatment, but she qualified for it due to her age and medical history — she suffers from asthma and eczema.
Despite the clinician recommending monoclonal antibodies, Judy decided not to get the treatment at first. Because her symptoms were intermittent, Judy thought her illness was beginning to go away.
“I said, ‘I think I’m OK,'” she says. “Little did I know, I was going to get worse and worse and worse.”
Over the next few days, Judy’s coughing worsened. She had no energy, and she developed a fever.
“It was like the worst flu of my life,” she says.
She called her primary care physician to request monoclonal antibody treatment.
Luckily, Judy still qualified for the treatment because it was soon enough after her positive test. On the day of her treatment, Judy visited UPMC Shadyside, where she said the clinical team treated her “with the utmost care and respect.”
The clinical team first gave Judy medicine to treat her symptoms. They then gave her the monoclonal antibody infusion, a two-hour process. The entire time, she says, the nurses and doctors kept her relaxed.
“I walked out of there saying, ‘I’ve just had the most phenomenal care of my entire life,'” she says. “It was so amazing.”
Judy’s COVID-19 symptoms lingered for a few more days. Then, one morning in early August — about two weeks after her initial symptoms — she woke up healthy.
“As soon as I opened my eyes, I said, ‘It’s gone,'” she says. “It vanished.”
‘I’m So Grateful’
Judy knows she had a close call with COVID-19. She strongly believes that the combination of the COVID-19 vaccine and monoclonal antibodies saved her life.
“I’m so grateful because honestly, if I did not get that vaccine, this would have killed me,” she says.
She says since her treatment, she’s spoken to others about her experience with COVID-19. She urges people to get vaccinated, especially with COVID-19 cases rising again in the United States due to the Delta variant (B.1.617.2).
“Anyone I see, I tell them, ‘Please — you never want to experience what I went through, ever,'” she says. “Don’t take the chance. Follow every protocol because this particular virus is deadly, and you never know if you’re going to be the one. Why would you ever risk that? Follow the guidelines that are given to us by scientists. Listen to them.”
Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations in central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.