Coronavirus treatment: Palo Alto woman recovers from coronavirus after being treated with remdesivir

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- Health experts have been advising that seniors with underlying medical conditions are at high risk for COVID-19.

In an exclusive interview with ABC7 News a Palo Alto couple who both tested positive for the virus open up about their experience. One of them recovered after a short hospital stay, while his wife participated in a clinical trial for a drug being tested to see if it can be an effective treatment. The drug is remdesivir.

"We started to feel sick on the way home on the very last day of the trip," said Adrian Arima. That was three weeks ago. Adrian and his wife Monica Yeung Arima took a dream trip to Egypt, developing fevers and feeling unwell as they returned home to Palo Alto. They were both admitted to Stanford Hospital when their symptoms didn't improve.

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Monica had underlying medical conditions, including asthma and diabetes. She developed pneumonia and a persistent cough. With no improvement in her condition, she was accepted into a clinical trial to test the drug remdesivir, developed by Foster City-based Gilead Sciences.

The Arimas are both at home now in self-isolation.

"It takes about a half-hour to get it all dripped in," said Monica Yeung Arima. "I did that every day, five days in a row, and you don't feel the pain. You don't feel anything."

Gilead had created remdesivir as a possible treatment for another deadly virus, Ebola.

"So there's nothing to lose because they had tried it on people for Ebola," she said. "There's not much negative feedback as far as side effects, but it just doesn't work on Ebola."

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The Arimas knew about remdesivir because Adrian was the long-time associate general counsel at Gilead. He was not a candidate for the trial because he was not as sick as Monica.

Monica's pneumonia began to improve with the drug. She had also been taking antibiotics.

"I think after two days I could see that I was feeling better," she said. "The only thing that was not doing better was my coughing."

Five daily doses of remdesivir paved the way for her hospital discharge after nearly two weeks. She is now recovering at home, resting much of the time, suspicious of the Nile River cruise they took where several tour groups shared buffet meals. At the time, they were not aware that the virus was circulating in Egypt and that it would sicken a number of tourists.

Monica is fortunate. Her decision to take part in the drug trial appears to have been a lifesaver.

Adrian Arima points out that remdesivir was not created specifically to treat COVID-19. It's through drug trials and patients like Monica Yeung Arima that doctors and health officials are studying its potential as more people get the virus.

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