Tonya Jones, 59, became the first patient at Blount Memorial Hospital to receive convalescent plasma on May 8 as part of her COVID-19 treatment. The hospital announced Saturday she has recovered from the coronavirus.
After eight days of receiving plasma, Jones was discharged from the hospital — with doctors, nurses and other hospital staff saluting her on her way out on Saturday.
“It’s a miracle,” Jones said in a statement released by BMH as part of a news release.
It all started for Jones when she had an inkling “something was just not right,” she said. With an “off” feeling, coupled with pain in the chest area that radiated around to her back, body aches, chills and vomiting, Jones sought care from her doctor, who tested her for COVID-19. When her results came back positive, she continued to recover at home while quarantining herself.
She was doing well at home until she couldn’t stop gagging and vomiting.
“My breath was short, not all the way gone, but I was having a really hard time breathing,” Jones said.
After consulting with her doctor by phone, she was directed to go to the emergency room at Blount Memorial Hospital.
At the hospital, Jones was cared for by hospitalists, including Dr. Deaver Shattuck, in an area dedicated to COVID-19 patients. Three days after being admitted to the hospital, her condition worsened, and she was moved to the hospital’s intensive care unit.
“Our biggest challenge in taking care of her was the amount of oxygen she was requiring to maintain an adequate blood oxygen saturation,” pulmonologist Dr. Andy Waller said.
At this point, Jones was receiving 100% high-flow oxygen, which meant the next step for her was most likely being put on a ventilator, Waller said.
As doctors monitored Jones, they identified her case as one that could benefit from the use of convalescent plasma.
“Plasma comes from a donor who has had COVID-19 and has recovered from the disease,” Waller explained. “The plasma contains antibodies against the virus, thus assisting the patient’s immune system in its fight against the virus.”
Currently, there are no approved medications or vaccines to treat COVID-19, according to a press release from BMH.
In April, BMH joined in the Mayo Clinic’s effort to collect donated plasma from qualifying recovered COVID-19 patients and the antibodies found in it, available to the sickest COVID-19 patients. The hospital’s participation in the Expanded Access Program enabled BMH patients to be eligible to receive donated plasma, if needed.
“It’s very, very important for the general public to understand this is not like a drug where we can ramp up the production line of the drug company,” said Dr. Michael Joyner, head of the Expanded Access Program at the Mayo Clinic. “This is a biological product that has to be obtained from a specific set of patients who have recovered from COVID-19, who meet rigorous criteria and go through a process of obtaining this material. And then it has to be distributed.”
Jones’ declining condition and the severity of the disease, Waller said, were key factors before reaching out to the Mayo Clinic to request donated plasma.
Waller received approval to administer the plasma to Jones, who agreed to the transfusion.
“She, clinically, looked better, felt better and her oxygen requirements and chest X-ray stabilized within 24 to 48 hours,” Waller said, noting that by the third day, there were clear improvements. “Most importantly, she did not ultimately require being placed on a ventilator.”
Jones remained in ICU for five days, and four days after receiving the plasma, she returned to a regular room.
Shattuck said the amount of oxygen she had to receive dwindled each day after receiving the transfusion, going from 100% oxygen down to 28%.
Jones hopes that others learn a few things from her battle with COVID-19 and said if anyone is eligible to receive donated plasma, they should take it.
“Go for it. Don’t even think about it,” she said. “What can you lose if you don’t try it?”