‘I Tested Positive for Antibodies:’ A COVID-19 Patient Shares Their Plasma Donation Story

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With each new passing day comes more information — sometimes it’s bad news, and other times it shines a much-needed light of hope. Antibody testing is being rolled out across the country, and while it’s still in the very early phases, there is hope that people who test positive for antibodies can help others who are currently fighting the COVID-19 virus.

We spoke with a local resident and are sharing what their experience was like being sick with COVID-19 and subsequently was able to donate plasma to help others. This person wished to remain anonymous, so we kept all of their demographics private.

Disclaimer: This is one person living locally who had a specific experience with COVID-19. This is meant to be informative only and not a medical opinion or advice by any means, as the severity varies from person to person. All should be practicing social distancing at this time. If you or a loved one are experiencing any symptoms, especially shortness of breath, cough, and fever, please contact your primary physician and call the hotline numbers listed here.

covid 19 patient antibody story

Where do you live?

Hoboken.

What do you do for work?

I am a political consultant.

When did you first feel symptoms?

I had my first symptoms during the first week of March.

What were they? How severe/mild were they?

I was very fortunate in that I had relatively mild symptoms. It started with a barely noticeable cough and fatigue, which I initially chalked up to exhaustion from traveling for work. By day three to four, I started developing a fever, which was the first sign something wasn’t right because I never get fevers. The fever lasted for about four days and was accompanied by a bad dry cough, body aches, a terrible headache, and complete exhaustion. Most days I was sleeping anywhere from 14-16 hours a day.
I did lose my sense of smell and taste, but only noticed in the later days because when I contracted COVID-19 it was so early on in the process that doctors still didn’t know exactly what they were looking for. I always lose my smell when I get sick so I initially didn’t think anything of it.

When did you decide to take a test? What made you decide?

I didn’t even register it could be COVID-19, because everything was so new and NYC was just starting to get hit with it. It wasn’t until the second day of my fever that I was informed that my friend/coworker, who I had exposure to, had been admitted to the hospital with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. I called my doctor and went through the options, most of which included having to get on public transportation to get a test. Because my symptoms were mild, I made the decision to not risk exposing others and decided not to get the test at that point.

How do you think you contracted COVID-19?

I travel a ton for work, so it’s hard to pinpoint the exact source. That being said, we had a work event that week where 12 people either tested positive or developed COVID-19 symptoms. It’s unclear where it originated from, but given my incubation timeline, this seems to be the day I acquired it. I developed symptoms five days after the event.

Did you have any difficulty {if symptoms were mild, were you turned away}?

There were two difficult things, one was that my doctor and work are in NYC but I live in Hoboken. There was confusion on whether I should report with NYC or NJ, and at the time they had different standards on reporting. The second issue was access to a testing site. There were no available testing sites in Hoboken or Jersey City and I don’t have a car so it would have been impossible to safely get anywhere.

When did you test positive? How long did it take for results? 

The first time I tested positive was when I enrolled in the antibody trial process. I was tested for antibodies 21 days after my first symptom and while I tested positive for antibodies, I also tested positive for COVID-19. I continued to test positive for COVID-19 for three weeks after my symptoms resolved, which the doctors explained is pretty normal even though you are no longer considered infectious. For many people, the COVID-19 virus stays in your system for up to eight weeks.
Because I was part of the trial, my test results always came back within 24 hours. I will say the nose swab is not a pleasant experience and am happy to not have that as a regular part of my experience.

Did you need to go to a doctor or hospital? Where did you go?

I went to Mt. Sinai hospital for their trials.

What have you been doing to recover? Are you home?

I took a mix of Advil and Tylenol {at first I was advised no Advil but the doctors changed their stance midway}, an expectorant for the cough, and the only time I took a cough suppressant was when I needed to sleep. My doctor advised me to definitely not take a suppressant because the cough was my body’s natural response to clearing my lungs. Under my doctor’s advice, I continued to take the expectorant for three days after my symptoms had cleared. It was an extra precaution to make sure nothing was getting stuck or infected. I kept liquids by my bed and couch and made sure to drink every 15 minutes that I was awake. Even with all the liquids I was drinking I still felt dehydrated all the time.

Are you still experiencing symptoms? How long have you been quarantining for?

Nope. I quarantined the first time for 14 days and then when I tested positive during the antibody trial I decided to quarantine again, except for dr visits, just to be on the safe side.

Before you found out you were positive, did you go anywhere locally?

Yes, and I let those businesses know. I feel terrible because I had absolutely no idea that I could have ever had COVID-19. There is a possibility that I was infected and still traveling for work, along with riding the path/bus/subway to and from NYC. It is likely I was exposed to thousands of people before I showed a single symptom. I think about this every day and the number of people that I could have infected and made sick. I wish social distancing guidelines had happened weeks before.

When and how did you find out that you had antibodies that work against COVID-19?

I found out the last week of March that I had a high number of antibodies that could be used for plasma donations.

What is the plasma donation process like?

The pre-process for plasma donation takes a week or two depending on the volume of people. First, you have to fill out an online survey with eligibility. If eligible, a member of the hospital staff will call you for pre-clearance and then schedule a time for you to get a nasal swab and blood drawn. The nasal swab is to confirm you are COVID-19 negative and then the blood is to get your antibody levels. You must have a certain level of antibodies in order to be eligible to give plasma.
After the initial screen, all NYC plasma donations are handled by the New York Blood Center. It takes about 90 minutes for the whole process and only feels like a mild pinching. Because blood is returned to you, you don’t have the same fatigue from giving blood. Depending on eligibility, you can give plasma multiple times. For the first month, I can give once a week and then possibly more if it is going directly to a patient.

What made you want to donate plasma/antibodies?

I don’t think it was ever a decision for me. The second I knew I could, I wanted to. It is such an incredibly simple thing to do that could possibly save lives. The only thing easier is wearing a mask.

If someone wants to check for antibodies, what can they do/what’s the first step?

There is currently no test approved for just checking the general public’s antibodies. People should only enroll in these studies if they plan on donating plasma. The general antibody test will be available in the next phase. If you are interested in donating plasma, contact your PCP, Hackensack University Medical Center, Columbia, Mt. Sinai or NYU. There are new trial centers popping up weekly, so your doctor will know of any.

Now that you have antibodies are you immune to COVID-19?

There isn’t an answer about this yet. It is likely there is some protection but the length of the protection is up for debate. The doctors have advised me to continue to act as if I can get and transmit this virus. In addition, because I am enrolled in a number of clinical studies it is important that I don’t pick up any secondary infections that could render me useless for the studies. So if you see me in Hoboken being extra paranoid, you now know why.

What have doctors told you since you have to quarantine? Is there a timeline? Will you need to get tested again to leave your house?

The recommendation was 14 days since my symptoms or at least three days without a fever and resolution of all symptoms. I quarantined for 14 days even though I felt fine after four days. Interestingly, I continued to test positive even after the recommending quarantine period. I continued to quarantine until I was no longer positive.

How do you feel the government is handling the epidemic?

I worked for Obama so I am always going to be a little biased, but I think most everyone is trying to do the best they can. I listen to the daily briefings to hear Dr. Fauci’s take on it because he has led many Administrations through epidemics and I think he is always a source of reliable information. I also have to credit Mayor Bhalla with doing an excellent job in Hoboken. He acted faster than most cities and I think you are seeing what a benefit it has had to our community.

Any advice for someone who thinks they’re positive?

If you have a PCP, call them or utilize a telemedicine service through CityMD. You should not leave your house or go to the hospital unless you are having trouble breathing. It’s up to you and your doctor but I think testing at this point is pretty irrelevant since there is no specific treatment for COVID-19 and the tests have a high false-negative rate. No matter what your tests says, if you have symptoms you will need to quarantine. My doctor said to me, “will getting a positive test in anyway change the way you are going to quarantine or your treatment? If not, there is no point exposing yourself and others by going to get a test.”

Is there anything else you can share to help ease our readers’ minds or inform them of at this scary time?

Make a plan before you even get sick and if you get sick stick to the plan. In most cases, you are going to be absolutely fine and try not to go down the rabbit hole of news articles if you do get sick. Also to our community, I beg you to please wear a face covering if you go into an essential business. You might be young and think it is no big deal, but trust me in that you don’t want to have to live with the guilt that you could have infected people, led to the closing of your favorite business, or possibly worse. It might sound hyperbolic, but because I was contagious before I was symptomatic, it is a guilt that I have to live with.

Where You Can Donate Plasma:

And finally, if you’d like to inquire about donating plasma/blood, please contact one of the below medical institutions to learn more:

Do you have a COVID-19 experience to share? Email us at hello@hobokengirl.com.

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Arielle is a born-and-bred Jersey girl and like a true NJ native, half her diet consists of bagels and the other half pizza. As a graduate of both American University and City, University of London, she’s been a passionate writer ever since she wrote her first “book” in the first grade. When she’s not furiously typing away at her keyboard, she spends her time ticking places off of her “to travel to” list, trying any and all new foods, and trying to stop herself from spending too much money at Zara.


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