Detroit rep says hydroxychloroquine, Trump helped save her life amid COVID-19 fight
Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press Published 2:52 p.m. ET April 6, 2020 | Updated 6:01 p.m. ET April 6, 2020
LANSING – A Democratic state representative from Detroit is crediting hydroxychloroquine — and Republican President Donald Trump who touted the drug — for saving her in her battle with the coronavirus.
State Rep. Karen Whitsett, who learned Monday she has tested positive for COVID-19, said she started taking hydroxychloroquine on March 31, prescribed by her doctor, after both she and her husband sought treatment for a range of symptoms on March 18.
"It was less than two hours" before she started to feel relief, said Whitsett, who had experienced shortness of breath, swollen lymph nodes, and what felt like a sinus infection. She is still experiencing headaches, she said.
Whitsett said she was familiar with "the wonders" of hydroxychloroquine from an earlier bout with Lyme disease, but does not believe she would have thought to ask for it, or her doctor would have prescribed it, had Trump not been touting it as a possible treatment for COVID-19.
Trump, at his daily coronavirus briefings, has repeatedly touted the drug in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin, despite criticism from health professionals that it is unproven and potentially dangerous. There have also been complaints that Trump's remarks have resulted in a shortage of the drug for those people who normally use it for its recommended purposes.
But Whitsett said Trump's comments helped in her case.
"It has a lot to do with the president ... bringing it up," Whitsett said. "He is the only person who has the power to make it a priority."
Asked whether she thinks Trump may have saved her life, Whitsett said: "Yes, I do," and "I do thank him for that."
Hydroxychloroquine is used to prevent and treat malaria and also used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, among other ailments.
Whitsett said she has been taking it in combination with antibiotics.
Trump tweeted a link to the Free Press story about Whitsett's experience on Monday and congratulated her. "So glad you are getting better!" Trump tweeted.
Whitsett said her husband works as an engineer at Detroit Metropolitan Airport and the couple believes he was exposed at work. He is still awaiting the results of his COVID-19 test, she said.
She also has lost people close to her through COVID-19 — a fellow Detroit lawmaker and a member of the clergy, among others — and said the entire experience has been scary.
"This is a very uncertain time," she said. "As a lawmaker, I want to be sure, but I'm not always sure."
Among her symptoms was an inability to comfortably bend her head down to look at her phone, she said.
"There have been pandemics before, so we do know that there will be an end to it."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no specific treatment for COVID-19. Those with mild symptoms are advised to stay home, self-isolate, get lots of rest, and stay hydrated. Those with severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, should seek medical treatment, the CDC says.
Whitsett, a freshman lawmaker, was a community activist in Detroit before her election.
She said too many people in Detroit are still not taking the virus seriously, and that needs to change.
"I see it in my own community — not being quarantined and still having house parties," she said.
Asked what she thinks of Trump's handling of the pandemic more generally, Whitsett said she credits Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan's relationship with Trump for helping to get the city what it needs to fight the virus.