SALT LAKE COUNTY (ABC4 News) – Nearly two months after a Tooele couple contracted the COVID-19 virus and made a full recovery, they are now giving back to medical research. Biopharmaceutical experts believe their plasma now have super antibodies that could be used to help save other patients.
John and Melanie Haering were part of the first group of Utahns who contracted COVID-19 overseas back in February. An outbreak on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship led to hundreds of cases onboard including John’s, who had to be transported to a hospital in Japan where the ship was docked.
“I didn’t eat for three or four days because I had really bad nausea. I had a bad headache to begin with and a really high fever. When I say peaked, it peaked at 104 and stayed around that range for three days,” said John.
The couple remained separated for weeks and told ABC4 News they didn’t know what was going to happen or when they were going to see each other again. John remained at the hospital in Chiba, Japan while Melanie flew back to the U.S. for a second round of quarantine at two air force bases with hundreds of other passengers.
“They didn’t test any of us at Travis Air Force Base. But I probably had it because everyone I had contact with was either in a Japanese hospital or an American hospital by the time we got there,” said Melanie.
On March 2nd, the couple reunited in Utah and spent another month in quarantine upon returning home. John’s symptoms had subsided and Melanie was believed to be asymptomatic. When she was finally able to obtain a test a month after the fact, her results came back negative.
“People need to take it seriously. Some people who need to are not. I knew it would come [here to the U.S.] but I had no idea it would get this big,” said Melanie.
“We knew it was going to come here [to the U.S.] and there were going to be a lot of cases. But we didn’t think it would shut the whole country down,” said John.
But the couple said they were more enthusiastic than others to practice social distancing and stay home because they were just thankful to be with each other and be home.
“We went through eight weeks of quarantine so when we hear others talking about doing it for two weeks, we just say, ‘Oh OK,'” Melanie laughed. “It’s been wonderful to be home. Now that we’re out, everyone else is in quarantine. We’ve been running errands for other people and kept busy. We were able to see my parents within six feet. My dad is 91 and my mom is 87.”
“Somebody asked me yesterday how I was feeling and I said I’ve been feeling good for the last month and a half,” said John.
After their recovery, BioLife Plasma Services in Riverton approached the couple about donating their convalescent plasma to help with the research towards a treatment for COVID-19.
In a statement to ABC4 News, a representative with BioLife explained “convalescent plasma refers to the plasma of individuals who have successfully recovered from an infection and have developed an immunity – or antibodies – against the pathogen that caused the disease.”
They went on to explain the immunity is “the basis for developing a therapy that, when administered to high risk individuals, may help their immune system respond to the infection and increase their chance of recovery. Healthy individuals who have not been exposed to COVID-19 do not have this immunity.”
BioLife is part of the Takeda Pharmaceutical Company. A group of world-leading companies led by Takeda and CSL Plasma formed the CoVlg-19 Plasma Alliance to develop a potential plasma-derived therapy for treating COVID-19. Their research aims to development an anti-SARS-CoV2 polyclonal hyperimmune immunoglobulin medicine, which has the potential to treat individuals at high risk for COVID-19.
The Haerings said for them, it was a “no brainer” to become donors. So far, they’ve donated twice already.
“In my mind, there was kind of a stigma about plasma donation. But when we met with them, they were fantastic and it was a wonderful experience. Knowing everybody who is there are saving lives, we are very committed to it,” said Melanie.
“We feel like we are survivors and we’re grateful for the fact that we made it out on the other side and now it’s our opportunity to help some other people,” said John. “We’ll get over this. It may take a month. It may take two months, whatever it takes. We’ll be better people and we’ll be more compassionate towards other people and we’ll be more considerate to other people.”
BioLife staff said they are looking for more donors who have recovered from COVID-19. All participants will have to provide official documentation confirming their diagnosis and subsequent complete recovery. They also must no longer be contagious.
“We have taken a number of extra precautionary measures to protect our employees and those who choose to donate, including extra cleaning processes, social distancing practices and associated training,” the statement said.
For those who are interested in donating, contact their MedInfo Center at 1-877-TAKEDA-7 (1-877-825-3327). If an individual does not live near an existing BioLife center, visit donatingplasma.org to find the nearest licensed plasma collection center to their location.