Air Force veteran Patrick Bright, 55, a police officer with the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, nearly died from COVID-19. Then he received a new treatment.
Bright was hospitalized at Medstar Southern Maryland Hospital on March 23. His health quickly deteriorated, and four days later he was flown to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
He also contracted double pneumonia and was placed on a ventilator. Bright said the doctor told his wife, Pamela, that he was the sickest patient in the hospital and that he likely had no more than three days to live.
Then an experimental treatment was approved for use. On his fifth day on the ventilator, Bright received convalescent plasma from Dr. Lambros Stamatakis, a physician at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, himself a COVID-19 survivor.
A spokesperson at MedStar Georgetown said Bright was the first person in the District of Columbia to receive convalescent plasma.
''On the eighth day on the ventilator, things started looking up,'' Bright said. ''My vitals and everything started improving.''
On May 15, after nine days on the ventilator and nearly two months after first being hospitalized, he was discharged and is now recovering at his home in Clinton, Maryland.
Pamela also contracted COVID-19, but she was not hospitalized and has fully recovered.
Dr. Colleen W. Gilstad, medical director with Transfusion Service at MedStar Georgetown, said while there is no proven treatment for this virus, researchers are optimistic that the antibodies in convalescent plasma can lead to more positive outcomes.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that a patient's ability to recover is due, in part, to the existence of antibodies in the blood that are capable of fighting viruses that cause illness, Gilstad said. While the use of convalescent plasma for COVID-19 was only recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for clinical trials and expanded clinical use, it has been successful in the past for treating diseases such as hepatitis B, influenza and Ebola.
Bright said that while he was in the hospital and his health was improving, he and his family communicated via video. ''We cried, we laughed, we were so happy,'' he said. ''It was one of the best moments of my life. It makes you appreciate life so much better. So many people had prayed for me.''
One of the first things Bright said he'll do when he gets completely well is thank Stamatakis and other doctors at both hospitals who treated him so well. When he left MedStar Georgetown, he noted, the doctors and nurses saluted and clapped.
The trip home was an amazing experience too, he said. Pentagon police officers lined the road, saluting his return. A news helicopter flew overhead, and reporters were camped out on my lawn, he recalled.
Bright said he’ll be happy to return to the Pentagon. He said he took the job because he loves helping people. ''I'm a people person, and I treat everyone with respect,”'' he added.
Bright urges people to donate plasma, noting that Pamela already has. He also encourages everyone to stay safe, wash their hands, wear a face mask and practice social distancing.
How the treatment works
When a person contracts SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, their immune systems create antibodies to fight the virus.
These antibodies are found in the plasma, the liquid part of blood, explained Army Col. Audra Taylor, a division chief with the Armed Services Blood Program.
Plasma with infection-fighting antibodies is called convalescent plasma, she said. Through the blood donation process, this plasma is collected from a donor who has recovered from COVID-19 and transfused into a sick patient who is still fighting the virus. This may boost the immune system of the patient and help with the recovery process, Taylor said.
The collection process for this type of plasma is the same as standard plasma collection, she noted. It is being investigated for the treatment of COVID-19 because there is no approved treatment for the disease at this time, and there is some indication that it might help some patients recover from COVID-19.
Several COVID-19 patients in the Military Health System have received convalescent plasma transfusions as part of their treatment, Taylor said. The treatment, which must be carried out under and approved protocol, is used for those hospitalized and severely ill with the disease.
How to donate convalescent plasma
Those fully recovered from COVID-19 are the only ones who qualify to be a COVID-19 convalescent plasma donor, Taylor said. DOD personnel and their families are welcome to donate, as are non-DOD civilians with access to testing facilities on installations.
Donors require evidence of a COVID-19-positive test documented by a laboratory test, Taylor said, as well as complete resolution of symptoms at least 14 days before the donation. Also, donors need to be at least 17 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds and be in good health. Women who have ever been pregnant may require additional testing if human leukocyte antigen antibodies were developed since their last pregnancy.
The process of donating convalescent plasma is the same as a standard plasma donation, she explained. The first step is to contact the local Armed Services Blood Program donor center to obtain information and determine eligibility to donate. Once eligibility is determined, an appointment will be made for the donation and instructions for the process will be given. The donor will also be reminded to bring the required documentation needed specifically for this type of donation.
Patients receiving treatment in DOD military treatment facilities receive priority for the Armed Services Blood Program convalescent plasma donations, Taylor said. However, the ASBP will continue to work closely with industry partners to support patients receiving care at the Department of Veterans Affairs and in civilian hospitals.
Taylor also noted that plasma and other blood donations in general are still needed and welcomed for other treatments that are not COVID-19 related.
''Our goal as a lifesaving program is to always provide a safe and ample supply of blood products,'' she said. ''The need is now. We are calling for all who are healthy, able and eligible, to donate today to help us all stand mission ready and save lives.''
ASBP Centers Collecting Convalescent Plasma
- Armed Services Blood Bank Center, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland;
- Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Blood Donor Center, Portsmouth, Virginia;
- Fort Bragg Blood Donor Center, Fort Bragg, North Carolina;
- Kendrick Memorial Blood Center, Fort Gordon, Georgia;
- Sullivan Memorial Blood Center, Fort Benning, Georgia;
- Blood Donor Center, Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi;
- Lackland Air Force Base Armed Services Blood Bank Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas;
- Robertson Blood Center, Fort Hood, Texas;
- Akeroyd Blood Donor Center, Fort Bliss, Texas;
- Naval Medical Center San Diego Blood Donor Center, San Diego, California;
- Armed Services Blood Bank Center – Pacific Northwest, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington;
- Tripler Army Medical Center Blood Donor Center, Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii;
- Naval Hospital Blood Donor Center, Guam; and
- Armed Services Blood Bank Center Europe, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany