Recovering from COVID-19: Area survivors tell their stories

Jennifer Meyer tested positive for COVID-19 and had to self isolate and could not see her mother who was in a nursing home. Her mother recently died and Meyer said she feels her mother died from, "depression and loneliness." JIM NOELKER/STAFF
Caption
Jennifer Meyer tested positive for COVID-19 and had to self isolate and could not see her mother who was in a nursing home. Her mother recently died and Meyer said she feels her mother died from, "depression and loneliness." JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOEKLER

Credit: JIM NOEKLER

More than 7,600 people in the Miami Valley have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the epidemic, and some survivors of the disease have begun gathering at a unique place — the Dayton Community Blood Center in downtown.

The Dayton CBC is trying to collect as much donated plasma as it can from recovered patients, and the downtown center has become a hub where COVID-19 survivors can be found.

The 625 units of COVID-antibody plasma the center had shipped as of July 29 are donated by people who recovered from being ill. Their plasma is used for an experimental treatment in which hospitals transfuse the plasma — which contains antibodies from someone who fought off the virus — into ill patients with the goal of speeding their recovery.

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Area men and women who have donated plasma at the center recently shared their stories of surviving the virus with the Dayton Daily News. Each story is unique. No two cases of COVID infection seems to be the same. Some had mild symptoms. Some thought they would die. Some were inconvenienced. Some fought high fevers, intubation and ventilators, and long periods of separation from family and friends.

Recovered from the ICU

Justin Morgan recently returned to work as a Clinical Nutrition Dietetic technician at a long-term care facility after making a recovery from being in an ICU with COVID-19.

Justin Morgan spent four days in a coma after contracting COVID-19 from his job as a health care worker. JIM NOELKER/STAFF
Caption
Justin Morgan spent four days in a coma after contracting COVID-19 from his job as a health care worker. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

The 38-year-old Riverside native, who is also a certified personal trainer and weightlifting instructor, did not expect to get severely sick from the virus because he thought it most heavily impacted older people and those with certain underlying conditions.

His illness progressed to fatigue and severe stomach pain and he was having trouble drinking and couldn’t eat.

He was tested June 24, a few days after he started to feel sick, and he got a positive result that night. Six days later he was admitted to Miami Valley Hospital.

Morgan said he thinks he passed out at the hospital.

“I don’t remember anything after getting into the CAT scan machine,” Morgan said.

He was sedated, intubated, and placed on a ventilator.

“The ventilator was at 70%, which means that I was doing almost zero breathing at all. Around 50% is considered the machines doing the work and you’re really not doing much,” Morgan said.

He later received a donation of convalescent plasma and within about 24 hours his caretakers were able to turn the ventilator down to 40%. On July 5 he came off the ventilator and woke up that day. He went home July 8 and has a video of the hospital staff celebrating him going home.

He and his wife Anita have three teenage children. He said his wife had to make decisions during his hospital care because he couldn’t.

“There was a day or two where she was really wondering, ‘is he going to die? He’s 38?‘” Morgan said.

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He said his children never had symptoms. His wife had symptoms of COVID-19 but was able to recover at home and did not get tested because her symptoms were not severe.

Following the recommendation of his doctor, he waited until July 22 to return to work. He lost about 25 lbs and said he had to recover from being on a ventilator.

Mild case

Elizabeth Isenberger, retired after working as an ER nurse after 35 years, tested positive for the coronavirus in late March after she flew out to help family in Katy, Texas. She went to help care for grandkids while her daughter-in-law’s father was in hospice.

“I believe I probably contracted it here somewhere around home but didn’t have any symptoms at all then,” she said.

Elizabeth Isenberger with phlebotomist is Jennifer Anderson donating convalescent plasma.
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Elizabeth Isenberger with phlebotomist is Jennifer Anderson donating convalescent plasma.

Several family members in the Texas area have all been sick from the coronavirus. Her daughter-in-law had tested positive and her daughter-in-law’s mother was treated in the ICU, was on a ventilator and is now convalescing.

Isenberger, of Washington Court House, said she recognized the symptoms, felt extremely fatigued and lost her sense of taste and smell but overall had a case where she was able to recover at home with over-the-counter medications.

Like Isenberger, the majority of people who become sick with COVID-19 are able to recover at home. Out of the 92,273 people who have tested positive in Ohio as of Aug. 6 since the start of the outbreak, 11,366 had so far been hospitalized while the others had not.

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Speaking at the Dayton Community Blood Center in downtown right before she made another plasma donation, Isenberger said every time her donated plasma is used at an area health center, she gets a notification.

Elizabeth Isenberger, pictured at the Community Blood Center.
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Elizabeth Isenberger, pictured at the Community Blood Center.

“I have a list of the centers that have used serum and I pray over each of those every time I get it,” Isenberger said.

Family separated

Jennifer Meyer, a recently retired teacher from Centerville, said she has been donating plasma to make the best out of a bad situation — her own coronavirus infection and her subsequent struggle for testing which caused her to be separated from her mother.

In early March, Meyer and some friends traveled to Spain for a three-week vacation. A few days into the trip, she received news that her 91-year-old mother had fallen and broken her hip. Then coronavirus cases started surging in Spain. By March 15, Madrid had shut down, and U.S. travelers were advised to come home. The airports were packed from everyone trying to get home.

The hotel in Madrid near the airport they stayed in was turned into a hospital after they left, Meyer said.

She and her friends had fevers when they came back.

“You can’t imagine how bad the airport was in Madrid ... We don’t know for sure where we picked it up. It could have been anywhere, but I imagine a lot of people got it on the airport,” she said.

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Meyer tested positive for coronavirus and dealt with the disease at home. She had a fever, a small amount of chest pain and was fatigued - but she said she had also just traveled back from Spain and the trip alone could have led to feeling worn out.

The real struggle was that she needed to visit her mother but wasn’t able to. At first she was sick and then later she felt better but she had to beg for additional testing to meet a requirement to have a negative test before she could see her mother.

It was almost two months before she got a negative test and was eventually able to see her mother again. The family had outdoor visits eventually but had to stay six feet apart with no hugging. Then her mother’s health worsened and she went to hospice care; family was finally able to come into her room. Her mother passed away earlier this summer. Meyer said she thinks her mother was depressed from being alone for months.

“I keep telling people, you don’t know how hard it was and still is on the elderly,” Meyer said.

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37 Days

Jane Schneider, who has made five plasma donations so far, said “after all this nightmare, this could be something positive that can come out of it. I can actually help somebody else.”

It was March 17 when Schneider, a sales agent, started to feel sick. At that time only a few coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Ohio.

She started out with mild symptoms but after several weeks progressed to severely ill. It became difficult to breath. She called an ambulance.

Jane Schneider tested positive for COVID-19 in March. She spent eight days in Sycamore Hospital.Schneider said she now is suffering with hair loss which she attributes to COVID-19. JIM NOELKER/STAFF
Caption
Jane Schneider tested positive for COVID-19 in March. She spent eight days in Sycamore Hospital.Schneider said she now is suffering with hair loss which she attributes to COVID-19. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOEKLER

Credit: JIM NOEKLER

“I started feeling heaviness in my chest and my temperature got so high, I thought someone needs to do something about this,” Schneider said.

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The EMTs didn’t want to come inside and asked her if she was able to come out to the porch and get on the stretcher. She walked out and lay down.

“I said I don’t blame you, it’s like a petri dish in here. I’ve been in here for two weeks,” Schneider said.

She spent eight days in Sycamore Medical Center and was discharged April 8. She was isolated from visitors while in the hospital. She was treated for her dehydration with fluids. She had pneumonia and was started on oxygen. She received hydroxychloroquine at one point.

After she got out of the hospital, she spent another 14 days at home quarantining.

“All in all, it was about 37 days,” Schneider said. She said she still has some hair loss but was told in about three to six months that should recover as well.


Donating convalescent plasma

Potential donors can review the convalescent plasma eligibility criteria and can complete and submit the form to qualify as donors at www.GivingBlood.org. Among criteria, donors must have had a diagnosis through a confirmed COVID-19 test while sick or later through an antibody test.

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