Keith Smith, whose wife had gone to court to have his COVID-19 infection treated with ivermectin, died Sunday evening, a week after he received his first dose of the controversial drug.
He was 52.
Smith had been in UMPC Memorial for nearly three weeks and had been in the hospital’s intensive care unit in a medically induced coma on a ventilator since Nov. 21. He had been diagnosed with the virus on Nov. 10.
His wife of 24 years, Darla, had gone to court to compel UPMC to treat her husband with ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug that has not been approved for treatment of COVID-19.
York County Court Judge Clyde Vedder’s Dec. 3 decision did not compel the hospital to treat Keith with the drug, but it did allow Darla to have an independent physician administer it. He received two doses before Keith’s condition grew worse, and the doctor halted the treatment.
“Tonight, around 7:45 p.m., my precious husband breathed his last breath,” Darla wrote on the website caringbridge.org.
He died with Darla and their two sons, Carter and Zach, at his bedside. Darla wrote they had time to speak to Keith, separately and as a group, before he passed away. “My boys are so strong,” she wrote. “They are my rock of solace.”
She described his last moments.
“The nurses removed that cursed tube from his throat and he breathed on his own for a bit,” she wrote. “Then, slowly, the time between breaths lengthened. His heart hammered in his chest. Such a strong, valiant heart. Finally his pulse went to zero, his color paled immediately.
“The man in that bed did not look like Keith. He was gaunt, with scabs on his cheeks from three weeks of torture, having that godforsaken vent attached to his face. He had a full beard and mustache. His hair had grown like a wild man.”
'A Hail Mary'
Darla had sued UPMC to treat her husband with ivermectin after reading about similar cases throughout the country, all filed by an attorney in Buffalo, N.Y. She was assisted by a group called Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance, which promotes the use of ivermectin in the treatment of the virus.
Whether the drug is effective in treating COVID-19 is unproven and studies cited by its proponents have been dismissed as being biased and including incomplete or nonexistent data. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of the drug to treat COVID-19, and the National Institutes of Health does not recommend its use. It is not included in UPMC’s COVID-19 treatment protocols.
He received his first dose on Dec. 5, two days after Vedder’s decision in the court case. After Keith received a second dose, the doctor overseeing the drug’s administration – a physician not affiliated with UPMC – ended the treatment as Keith’s condition deteriorated.
Darla had written previously that she was unsure whether ivermectin could help her husband, but it was worth a try. The use of the drug was described as “a Hail Mary” intended as a last-ditch effort to save Keith’s life. (She would not say whether her husband had been vaccinated.)
She was angry with UPMC for refusing to administer the treatment, forcing her to sue, and for delaying the treatment for two days as the hospital grappled with the meaning of the court order while Darla arranged to have an independent nurse administer the drug. Citing privacy laws, UPMC had previously declined to disclose details of the case or Keith’s treatment.
She had kind words for the nurses at UPMC, writing “I still love you.” She wrote, “You cared for Keith for over 21 days. You dosed him with the medicines the doctors prescribed. You cleaned him and groomed him, moved him, propped him up, dealt with every mess, every smell, every trial. Everything. I appreciate you.
“That’s all I’ll say about UPMC at this time,” she wrote. “You’re incredibly lucky to have the nurses you do, jackwads. Treat them better.”
An engineer, a Penn State fan and a Christian
Keith Smith was a structural engineer, a vice president of a firm headquartered in Lancaster. He was a graduate of Penn State and was an avid fan of the Nittany Lions football team. He was active, his wife said, and enjoyed woodworking and skiing.
And he was a devout Christian. His wife told a story about a trip to Baltimore. The family had passed a homeless man on the sidewalk, and as Darla and his sons walked ahead, Keith stopped to speak to him, and after hearing his story, gave the man some money. Darla chastised him for it, saying the man was just going to spend the money on drugs, but Keith told her he said he wanted something to eat, and Keith wanted to help him, a demonstration of his faith.
“If heaven is indeed real, just as God should be real – but He chose to not reveal Himself, and I will never, ever in a million years understand why – then I know that Keith is at peace,” Darla wrote.
Her husband’s death has shaken Darla’s faith.
“And God? Remains to be seen,” she wrote. “At the moment we are not on speaking terms and we may never be again. I don't know. We are where we are.”
'I want to erase all of this'
She had been looking for signs. Earlier Sunday, she wrote, she was vacuuming when she saw a pack of eight deer in the yard of her family’s home in the Out Door Country Club area of Manchester Township. “It was weird,” she wrote, a sight she had never seen before in her suburban neighborhood.
Later, she spoke to Keith’s parents, who live in South Carolina, and his mother told her that a gaggle of wild turkeys had appeared in their yard earlier in the week. Keith’s mother also told her that a rose bloomed right outside a window, despite the temperatures dropping into the 20s at night. “No one could explain why a massive rose would pop up like that and stubbornly stay in place and live,” she wrote. “We thought it was a sign. I thought a lot of things were signs.”
She wrote, “I don’t want to remember my husband in that awful bed with that monstrous tube stuck in his throat. I want to erase the IVs, the wires, the lines, the feeding tube. I want to erase all of this.”
She wrote that she had picked up a prescription for ivermectin the day before Thanksgiving. “I could have given him the drug on the sly. Yes, they would have caught me.” She described preparing the drug in a sterilized Rubbermaid cup to sneak it into the hospital before the court ruled on her lawsuit. “In the end, I didn't do it,” she wrote. “And that will forever be a cloak of guilt that will cover me in shame.”
Instead, she wrote, “I waited for the stupid court order, a nine-day delay from the date I picked up the script in Paoli. Then, UPMC played nasty, vile, wicked games for two days and delayed further.”
She wrote, “The only thing keeping me upright is sheer hate and venom. Don't lecture me - DO NOT. If you've been through this, you know precisely what this feels like. I hope it is momentary, but I'm pretty nasty when cornered, so don't hold your breath. And, if you haven't been through this, drop to your knees and thank GOD that He hasn't dumped this on you. Thank your lucky freaking stars. But do NOT, ever, lecture me or judge me. There but for God's grace go you. Trust me, you do not want this burden.”
She concluded, “My heart will always have a Keith-sized hole in it. It will never go away. I will miss him until the day I expire.”
Columnist/reporter Mike Argento has been a Daily Record staffer since 1982. Reach him at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on York Daily Record: Man who won a court battle to treat his COVID with ivermectin has died