Posted on Dec 22, 2020

Two Bull Nurses at the Forefront of Fight Against Coronavirus

Two Bull Nurses at the Forefront of Fight Against Coronavirus

In as many weeks, two USF Bull Nurse frontline nurses have garnered the spotlight for their contributions to the region’s coronavirus pandemic response. One became the face of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the Tampa Bay region. The other has led the Eli Lilly monoclonal antibody infusion trials at AdventHealth hospitals in Zephyrhills and Dade City.

As news cameras rolled, Tampa General Hospital nurse Vanessa Arroyo rolled up her sleeve to become the first person in Tampa to receive the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine at a joint USF Health and TGH news conference.

Arroyo graduated two weeks ago with a master’s degree in nursing from the College of Nursing’s Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner program.

She had volunteered to get the vaccine that morning with a co-worker but didn’t expect to be the first person in line.

But despite the surprise media attention, Arroyo said the vaccine brings her peace of mind. From March through November, she has cared for patients infected with the coronavirus on every shift in the hospital’s COVID unit.

“Every time I went into work, I was hyper-vigilant. I thought, ‘Is this going to be the day that I get COVID, and am I going to get it and bring it home to my family?’ I have a husband and two kids, so there was a long period where I didn’t visit any of my friends or my family because I didn’t want to be that person who gave it to someone,” she said.

Arroyo said she hopes her public display of inoculation will encourage others to get the vaccine when it is available to them. She works in the hospital’s medical ICU, where they care for COVID-recovered patients who have long-term effects of the disease.

“I can’t even count how many patients have passed away, but the ones that survive, it is still difficult,” she said. “If everyone could see what people are going through, then there wouldn’t be a doubt in their minds to get vaccinated.”

Melinda Rivera, a nurse practitioner at AdventHealth, oversees the Eli Lilly monoclonal antibody infusion treatment trials for patients with COVID-19.

College of Nursing doctoral student Melinda Rivera is also at the forefront of the health crisis, working to lessen the severity of symptoms for coronavirus patients and reduce the need for hospitalizations.

Rivera is the advanced practice provider overseeing the Eli Lilly monoclonal antibody infusion treatment trials for patients with COVID-19 at AdventHealth hospitals in Zephyrhills and Dade City.

In November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency use authorization (EUA) for bamlanivimab to treat mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adult and pediatric patients. Bamlanivimab is authorized for COVID patients who are at high risk for progressing to severe COVID-19 or hospitalization.

The two AdventHealth sister campuses in Pasco County became one of the first locations to offer the Eli Lilly monoclonal antibody infusions due to the spike in cases in the community.

Rivera, a nurse practitioner in the College’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program, said the hospitals began offering the treatments in early December and have seen remarkable results. Patients who qualify for the infusion receive a one-time intravenous dose that takes an hour to administer. They are monitored for another hour and then sent home.

“It was amazing. We’ve infused between 30 to 40 patients, and 92 percent of patients recovered within 24 to 48 hours following the infusion,” she said.

Rivera, who works in readmission prevention in the hospital’s emergency room, was tasked with getting the infusion clinics up and running in a short amount of time. She credits the monoclonal antibody trial for keeping many of the patients with COVID-19 out of the hospital and believes it has made a huge impact within the community.

“We had an unfortunate uptick of patients coming in with pretty serious COVID symptoms, and we had the unfortunate distinction of having the most cases in the entire division,” she said.

Story by Elizabeth L. Brown, USF College of Nursing