More than a month later, more COVID-19 patients are recovering. And they credit most of it to a new clinical trial using convalescent plasma therapy.
“I’m feeling better,” said Christian Yancy. "I’m getting stronger and stronger day by day.”
“I feel good," said Michael Penix. "I mean I’m still on oxygen.”
Yancy and Penix are just two of the hundreds of people in Louisiana who are recovering from the coronavirus.
“It was the most sickest I ever felt in my entire life," Yancy recalled.
“I’m 57 years old, (and) this was actually the first time I’ve ever spent the night in a hospital," said Penix.
He works as a paramedic in Northwest Louisiana, while Yancy is a nurse with Willis-Knighton Health System.
It was while they both were working that the symptoms of COVID-19 slowly crept in.
“It started off like just this nagging cough and this low-grade temperature, but it got to the point where it was a constant fever," Yancy said.
“It was really hard to breathe," Penix explained. "The cough was the worst part, that and the fever.”
Yancy was working in a hospital’s COVID-19 unit April 23 when she says she began showcasing a dry cough and a headache.
She went to get tested for the virus April 25. And during that time, Yancy began taking hydroxychloroquine.
"I did think in my mind that I was kind of protected. But in spite of taking it, I still ended up getting COVID-19.”
For Penix, his initial symptoms started around May 1. The next day, he went to get tested for COVID-19 and later on in the week found out he tested positive.
Both eventually ended up at Willis-Knighton and soon were presented with a unique option from Dr. Joseph Bocchini.
“You take someone who has recovered from an infection, use their plasma which contains a high amount of antibody against the infection to protect someone or to change the course of an infection that somebody has with that infection," he explained.
That process is called convalescent plasma therapy. Willis-Knighton has spent the past few weeks undergoing this study under the lead institution of the Mayo Clinic.
The Mayo Clinic was approved by the Food and Drug Administration to expand access to the study, allowing the hospital system the opportunity to undergo this process.
“It makes sense to try this,” Bocchini said. “We still don’t know whether it works.”
Yancy received her plasma May 13, while Penix received his on May 10. Both say their recovery process began quickly.
“Once I got the plasma, I kid you not, the next day I felt like something had changed," Yancy said. "I felt like I wasn’t short of breath anymore and I was able to come off the oxygen.”
Penix said: “Within just a few hours of the administration of the plasma, that’s pretty much where my turnaround started."
Both Yancy and Penix soon were released from the hospital and now are recovering at home.
Bochnni said their hospital has treated around 35 patients using this process. While most are improving quickly, they are still in need of more plasma.
“Obviously, with more patients and that fact that we expect COVID-19 cases to continue, we need more people to donate."
While Yancy and Penix continue their paths toward recovery, they hope sharing their stories will inspire others to consider donating.
“I want people to know," said Penix. "I want people to be aware that if you’ve had it, you can further the cause by donating plasma.”
Recovered patients are eligible to donate two weeks after the onset of symptoms if they have a negative follow-up virus test or 28 or more days have passed since the start of their infection.
Recovered patients are urged to contact their primary-care doctors, Carrie Kay at Willis-Knighton at (318) 212-8130 or LifeShare Blood Centers if they are willing to serve as a donor.