A Florida doctor says families of loved ones hospitalized with COVID-19 are resorting to desperate measures when approved treatments have failed.And when it's not too late, some have seen tremendous success by sneaking medications prohibited by hospitals to patients, says Eduardo Balbona, an independent internist in Jacksonville.
Hospitals receive payments from the federal government for treating patients with COVID-19. But those payments are tied to their use of approved treatments only, as outlined in the CARES Act. When there's nothing left to try under those protocols, families naturally research alternatives, Balbona says, often learning about treatments touted by independent physicians around the country.
Hoping to try anything that might work, families around the country have filed lawsuits asking judges to intervene.
In some cases, judges have ordered hospitals to allow the use of other treatments, such as ivermectin. Some of those seriously ill patients have recovered. In other cases, judges have sided with hospitals and declined the families’ requests to try.
Meanwhile, independent physicians like Balbona watch helplessly, feeling that when families ask, they should be allowed to try medications they believe can turn critically ill patients around. But independent doctors often have limited hospital privileges and may be banned from seeing their own patients in some hospitals.
That was the case recently for Balbona, who was contacted by a worried wife after she read in The Epoch Times about his involvement in another family’s lawsuit seeking to try his recommendations.
Based on what the woman told him, Balbona said he felt strongly her husband could recover if treated with the regimen he prescribes for seriously ill COVID-19 patients. The treatment protocol he follows, with slight modifications based on each patient’s needs, was developed by the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance.
“The husband was very ill,” Balbona said. “He’s in his 50s, a big strong guy. She called me desperate because they gave him remdesivir [in the hospital] and she made them stop it, and he started getting worse and worse. And his oxygen demand went up.”
By the time she called Balbona for help, her husband needed 60 liters of oxygen per minute. That's too high to manage at home, even with rented medical equipment, Balbona said.
“If you can get them down to 40 or 50 [liters per minute] you can do high-flow oxygen at that level,” Balbona told The Epoch Times. "That's a lot of oxygen.”
He said he promised he’d try if her husband improved enough to go home. And then he'd take over managing his care. Meanwhile, he said, he gave her prescriptions, so she could collect the medications she’d need at home. That was on a Friday.
He learned later that she’d filled the prescriptions, took the medications to the hospital, and gave them to her husband. By Tuesday, the man was discharged and fully following the protocol Balbona prescribed. A few days later, he was off the oxygen. Now, he’s recovering, Balbona said. But they're afraid to share their good news publicly.
“The people who snuck in the ivermectin… they are scared to death,” Balbona said. “She is sure that the government is going to find out who she is” and possibly arrest her for giving medications not approved by the hospital.
He said she told him, “I did it. I knew it was wrong. I don't know what the penalties are. What could they do to me?”
And that’s the real crime, Balbona believes.
In New Hampshire, lawmakers now are considering legislation that would make the state the first in the country to make Ivermectin available as an over-the-counter medicine, and sanction it as a protected treatment for COVID-19. Similar bills in three other states have failed.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Leah Cushman (R) is a registered nurse, who told The Epoch Times, “I have absolutely no doubt lives will be saved if human grade ivermectin was available to COVID patients.”
Two doctors testified about her proposed bill, warning the legislation could lead to dangerous side effects for people who use the drug. But Cushman believes she’ll have the votes to keep the bill moving toward becoming law.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the use of ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19, though the drug is used in humans to treat a variety of conditions.
The FDA has not responded to a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) asking for details about any reports of side effects related to the use of ivermectin — formulations for animals and humans — to treat COVID-19. The agency also has not responded to a FOIA request for details about clinical trials and when the drug could reach the stage when its use under the Right To Try Act could be allowed.
Studies about the safety and efficacy of using ivermectin in the treatment for COVID-19 have led to all or part of 22 countries approving its use. But in the United States, doctors who rely on payments from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services aren't allowed to use it.
When Balbona heard about the proposed legislation, he immediately called two state senators, and two attorneys who are patients, suggesting that they propose similar legislation in Florida. Florida lawmakers currently are in session in Tallahassee through March 11.
“If we can get legislation to say, ‘Let the doctor do what he thinks is best,’ I think that would be wonderful," Balbona said. "If New Hampshire can do this, why can't we?”
Alice Giordano contributed to this report.