A conservative Anchorage political activist’s illness at Providence Alaska Medical Center became a flashpoint in a battle over COVID-19 treatments this week, with a city Assembly member joining in a campaign to compel doctors to administer ivermectin, an unproven treatment for the virus.
William Topel’s treatment at Providence became a rallying point for people who say patients should be allowed to try ivermectin, a medicine used to treat parasites in humans and worms in livestock that the FDA says should not be used for COVID-19.
Topel died early Wednesday, according to Michael Chambers, an Anchorage artist who described himself as a longtime friend.
Topel, who had testified at numerous Anchorage Assembly meetings against pandemic precautions, was hospitalized late last week after contracting the virus, Chambers said. While attempting to get a monoclonal antibody treatment, it was discovered that his oxygen levels were low and he was taken to Providence.
Topel wanted to be treated with ivermectin, but the hospital said no, according to Chambers.
“He wrote it down on a piece of paper: I don’t want to be intubated and I don’t want remdesivir, I am requesting that I get ivermectin,” according to Chambers.
‘Jamie, she was talking directly to doctors and nurses’
At some point on Saturday, Anchorage Assembly member Jamie Allard got involved.
Chambers says Topel designated her with power of attorney, an authorization to make decisions involving medical or legal matters for another individual. At the time, Topel was “still coherent,” Chambers said. “He could talk, he could have conversations.”
Over several days, Chambers said Allard spoke directly to medical staff at Providence, pushing the treatments Topel indicated he wanted.
“Jamie, she was talking directly to doctors and nurses,” Chambers said.
Anchorage attorney Mario Bird sent a letter to Providence executives demanding Topel be given ivermectin, as well as an IV drip of vitamins. Allard posted on Facebook about her campaign, but later deleted it.
Bird did not respond to a request for comment.
Allard did not answer questions about her role.
“I don’t have a comment,” Allard said before hanging up the phone on a reporter Wednesday.
Soon, a campaign to get Providence to administer ivermectin to Topel was circulating in conservative Facebook groups. One appeal asked Gov. Mike Dunleavy to step in.
“William has requested the use of Ivermectin at Providence Hospital in Anchorage for COVID-19. Providence refuses to try!”
Dunleavy was aware of social media posts about the matter, said spokesman Jeff Turner. He did not weigh in.
“It would be inappropriate for him to intervene in someone’s personal medical care,” Turner said.
A senior member of the Bronson administration also showed up at the hospital on Saturday, trying to visit Topel.
Terrence Shanigan, the mayor’s director of legislative affairs and a 10-year friend of Topel’s, said in an interview Wednesday evening that he was there to drop off a phone charger at Topel’s request.
In a live video posted by Dustin Darden to Facebook on Saturday, Shanigan can be seen walking into Providence asking to see a friend or make a delivery alongside Darden.
Darden, an Anchorage activist and repeat candidate for office, frequently causes disruptions during Assembly meetings and is often asked to leave Assembly chambers by leadership. He was previously arrested during a meeting and temporarily blocked from Assembly chambers, though he is now allowed to attend meetings.
Shanigan said he didn’t know Darden would also be at the hospital. He said he dropped off the phone charger at the hospital’s front desk and then stopped to pray for about 15 minutes with a family on the sidewalk apparently getting last rites for a gravely ill relative.
The two men saw each other there, Shanigan said. Then they decided to do a prayer walk around the hospital for Topel along with a friend who’d driven him, he said. The trio entered again at a back entry to ask about visitor policies.
As Shanigan’s friend recorded, Darden hung back because he wasn’t wearing a face mask. Shanigan, wearing a mask, had a polite exchange with a hospital employee. He pointed to a list of visitor screening questions on the wall that included whether someone has objects on them that might be considered a weapon.
“Why are they asking this?” he can be heard saying. “Is it they are afraid people with COVID are going to get violent?”
The employee answers that weapons are off-limits in hospitals around the country.
Providence hospital spokesman Mikal Canfield said the men stirred concern from security because they “asked questions about hospital policies regarding weapons and patient visitation.”
After the group was told they couldn’t come in due to visitation policies, they were seen trying to enter through different entrances, filming and taking videos, Canfield said. They ultimately left without incident, he said.
Shanigan said the group never tried to access the building apart from the front and back entrances. He blamed the security attention on a family feud that involves someone on staff at the hospital.
Anchorage police pulled up and an officer approached him as he got into his car, but Shanigan said he was already leaving.
“I wanted to support Bill, and that’s what I did,” he said.
Shanigan was not there on behalf of the Bronson administration, said spokesman Corey Allen Young.
“Whatever happened at the hospital has nothing to do with the mayor’s office,” he wrote.
Ivermectin is approved to treat certain infections caused by parasites in people.
Some people, including vaccine skeptics, have championed it as a treatment or even preventive drug for COVID-19.
The majority of medical authorities say medication of any kind for viral illness is extremely limited and vaccines are by far the most effective way to protect against viruses, including the COVID-19 virus.
Ivermectin is not authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for preventing or treating COVID-19. Multiple trials are underway, but none have yet proven the drug works.
There have, however, been multiple reports of illness, especially with the high doses or off-label use of animal dewormer often used to treat the virus.
Several Republican lawmakers are pushing to make it easier to access ivermectin in Alaska.
The chair of the state pharmacy board, a Soldotna pharmacist, in a letter to legislators noted potential legal liability for pharmacists over drugs they dispense and said pharmacists were free to use their “professional judgment” when deciding whether to fill prescriptions. He also said reports of misuse of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 “should give most prescribers and pharmacists reason to pause.”
Providence does not use ivermectin to treat the virus, a spokesperson said Wednesday in response to questions. The hospital said it can’t discuss specifics regarding patient care in Topel’s case or any other.
Ivermectin is not an antiviral drug, spokesperson Mikal Canfield wrote in an email.
“Ivermectin tablets are approved at very specific doses for some parasitic worms, and there are topical (on the skin) formulations for head lice and skin conditions like rosacea,” Canfield said.
Hospital staff work to provide “compassionate care” for the sometimes angry calls they get from people demanding ivermectin treatment, he said.
“We understand that having a loved one in the hospital is extremely traumatic, and our caregivers attempt to ensure their concerns are heard.”
Hospital vs. hospital
As Topel’s condition worsened, Allard and others tried to have him transferred to Alaska Regional Hospital, Chambers said. The idea was that Topel and his representatives might be able to “shop for a doctor that would prescribe ivermectin” at Regional, he said.
The transfer to Regional didn’t happen because there was no ICU-level bed available, Chambers said.
A Regional spokesperson said she couldn’t provide any patient-specific information but made it clear the hospital is crowded and does not endorse ivermectin use.
The hospital’s ICU has been at capacity for many days and did not have capacity to accept transfers recently, spokesperson Kjerstin Lastufka said Wednesday.
Regional “relies on licensed, independent physicians who use their extensive training and experience to assess patients’ needs and determine the course of treatment,” Lastufka wrote in an email. Ivermectin “is not a recommended therapy for COVID-19 in the United States by the FDA, and is not endorsed as a COVID-19 therapy in our hospital.”
Chambers said he believes ivermectin treatments have been unfairly maligned by the media and some in the medical establishment.
On Tuesday night, Topel’s illness came up in a raw exchange at the Assembly meeting, just before a vote on an emergency order to require masking.
Assembly member Chris Constant mentioned a person who had previously testified and was now critically ill. He did not name Topel.
“We’ve heard a very sad story of an individual who was here two Wednesdays ago ... who is now on a ventilator and may or may not make it,” Constant said.
Allard shot back, saying, “If you’re talking about my friend, we have a problem,” and calling Constant “irresponsible” and “disgusting” and a “disgrace.”
“And he’s not on an intubator,” she said. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Topel died early Wednesday morning. Chambers says he is heartbroken by his friend’s death.
He admits he doesn’t know what would have happened if Topel had gotten the ivermectin treatment.
“Whether or not he would have medically benefited (from receiving the treatment), I don’t know. I am not a doctor,” Chambers said. “But I know his spirits would have been tremendously lifted.”
Daily News reporter Emily Goodykoontz contributed to this story.