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In this together: Military couple recovers from COVID-19, donates convalescent plasma

Image of retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Trae King-Latimer and her husband Jerome Latimer.

Retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Trae King-Latimer and her husband Jerome Latimer believe they contracted COVID-19 around the time of their first-year wedding anniversary. After fully recovering from COVID-19, they wanted to help those still fighting the disease and donated convalescent plasma together. (Courtesy photo)

The COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Collection Program is a Department of Defense effort to collect 10,000 units of convalescent plasma donated by members of the military community who have recovered from the disease. Convalescent plasma will be used to treat critically ill patients and to support the development of an effective treatment against the disease. Eligible donors should contact the Armed Services Blood Program to find a complete list of available collection centers.

During this COVID-19 pandemic, there is a heavy amount of difficult news, but there are also rays of hope and inspiration on the path. COVID-19 convalescent plasma donors Trae King-Latimer and her husband Jerome Latimer serve as examples of the generosity of service members and their families, as they continue serve through their donation.

COVID-19 convalescent plasma, or CCP, is being investigated for the treatment of COVID-19 because there is no approved treatment for the disease at this time. There is information that suggests CCP might help some patients recover from the disease.

When a person contracts a virus such as SARS-CoV-2 - the virus that causes COVID-19 - their immune system then creates antibodies to fight the virus. These antibodies are found in the person’s plasma, the liquid part of blood. Plasma with these infection-fighting antibodies is called “convalescent plasma.” Through the blood donation process, this plasma can be collected from a fully recovered person and provided to a patient who is still fighting the virus.

A retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. of 30-years, King-Latimer, and her husband believe they contracted COVID-19 around March 16 - of all things, the couple’s one-year anniversary. they believe that they became infected from Latimer’s place of work, since a few individuals there had tested positive for COVID-19. After their symptoms started, they were officially diagnosed on April 9.

“We had every symptom except shortness of breath,” explained Latimer. “We experienced body aches, chills, coughing, loss of smell, loss of taste, etcetera. We suffered all the major symptoms. The recovery lasted way too long for us, it was about 5-7 weeks total to fully recover from this.”

As she and her husband recovered, King-Latimer was keeping an eye out for COVID-19 in the news, learning more about the disease. That’s where she heard about CCP and wanted to know more. Serendipitously, around this time she received a call from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center about the CCP program to see if she would be willing to donate. Wanting to find out more, she called the number they provided for the Armed Services Blood Bank Center – National Capital Region and spoke with the blood donor recruiter, who provided more information and qualifications to donate convalescent plasma.

King-Latimer, who had given blood several times with the Armed Services Blood Program while in the Service, didn’t need to be asked twice. Latimer, a first-time donor, agreed to donate as well. The couple, having never donated via apheresis - or even what that process entailed - were ready to help. People were dying, even people King-Latimer knew. “We were going to donate no matter what the process was,” she stated.

Echoed Latimer, “The reason for donating was to help someone who may be suffering and in need of our donation. Our experience was real, it was alarming, especially since so many were passing away … we felt obligated to help others since we were blessed enough to recover.”

In an unprecedented time, family, neighbors, and the community rallied around them during their recovery. It made King-Latimer, a contractor at the Pentagon, recall her military days due to the warm treatment she received.

“We don’t live around the military community right now,” explained King-Latimer. “When we had COVID-19 and were recovering, our neighbors and community were awesome and so helpful. It was like that military family feeling for us. So when we went to donate it was that feeling of family, community. When you think about donating for this program, think of it as donating for a family member. For your military family.”

When asked about the experience and why people should come out and donate, King-Latimer was emphatic. “Don’t be scared to do it. We didn’t know [fully what apheresis plasma donation was like]. Once we got there, the entire team was amazing! If you are worried or scared about it, think about how beneficial it is to those who need it. It [apheresis donation time] was about 45-60 minutes to help save someone, and that was well worth it.”

As one who has fully recovered from COVID-19 and now a successful CCP donor, King-Latimer said she would consider donating again. Her husband added, “I would tell anyone it’s a great way to give back, and that by doing so, you can possibly help save a life or two.” Latimer went on to praise the ASBP team, adding, “the experience was inspiring.”

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