Richard Wells is the first plasma donor at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pa., where researchers are conducting a clinical trial to treat severely ill patients with COVID-19. Richard and his wife Maria both tested positive for the virus in March. “The illness felt like nothing I'd ever experienced before,” Maria tells Yahoo Life. “It was hard,” Richard recalls. “We had the low-grade fever. We talked about the aches and pains, the fatigue.” “Our children were especially concerned for us,” Maria shares. “Their constant concern was, are you sure you're breathing OK? Are you sure you don't need to go to the hospital?” Both Richard and Maria shared similar symptoms. The fever lasted seven to 10 days, and it took nearly three weeks to fully recover from the fatigue. Unable to go out, the couple received help from their friends, who delivered meals and groceries to their door. “[We] just felt tremendous support from our friends and our community,” says Richard, noting that the support was one of the reasons why he and his wife felt the desire to give back. After making a full recovery, Richard and Maria started looking into ways they could help fight the pandemic, which is how Maria discovered the clinical trial to treat severe COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. “They had just started this trial,” Maria explains. “I was patient number one. Richard was patient number two.” The theory behind the trial is that as a person recovers from COVID-19, they develop antibodies that can help boost the immune system to fight the infection. If a person still has these antibodies after they have fully recovered, they can donate their plasma to someone who is currently infected to try and treat the virus. However, there are certain eligibility requirements that a person must meet before donating plasma. Women who have given birth can develop certain antibodies that are dangerous to plasma recipients. “I cannot donate plasma, unfortunately,” Maria explains, but she was able to do her part in giving back by donating blood. Meanwhile, on April 13, Richard became Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s first plasma donor. “It was incredibly exciting to have our first donor,” Dr. Kristin Rising, one of the doctors leading the trial, tells Yahoo Life. “Trials, specifically with COVID-19, are immensely important. We do not have enough evidence to say definitively which [treatments] are positively changing outcomes. The only way that we can get answers is through doing research and trials.” For Richard and Maria, there was no question about helping to further COVID-19 treatment research. “If there's anything that I could do as an individual to help advance the amount of knowledge that we have … we'll just be better prepared to respond appropriately,” says Richard. “Every human being right now on this earth is working in some way to alleviate the virus,” Maria says. “Here's an opportunity for us to do something for others because others have done for us.” If you live in the Philadelphia area and wish to learn more about Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s COVID-19 plasma trials, please visit www.jeffersonhealth.org/covidplasma.
MARIA WELLS: Every human being right now on this Earth is working in some way to alleviate the virus. How incredible is that to think about?
I first noticed my symptoms actually one afternoon. I had gone running with my daughter Caroline, and I realized that I was having a hard time running. And I thought, this is unusual. My body is not reacting the way that it usually does. We were struck, both of us, by a crippling fatigue.
RICHARD WELLS: Low-grade fever with the aches and pains. Looking back on it now, it's obvious that's what was going on. But in the moment, you're like, this isn't really-- this isn't-- you know, this is not happening to us, of course. And then the results came back.
MARIA WELLS: The illness felt like nothing I'd ever experienced before. Our children, especially, felt responsible. They were constantly concerned, like "are you sure you're breathing OK? Are you sure you don't need to go to the hospital?"
RICHARD WELLS: [INAUDIBLE] tremendous support from our friends in our community. And they would just drop off groceries. You know, nobody said "what can I do for you," they just did.
MARIA WELLS: We had a family that made us an entire meal. So we felt the benefit and the love of our community. When we found out that we could possibly help in some way, it was this great desire to give back.
They had just started this trial. I was patient number one, Richard was patient number two. It's a lot easier for men to donate plasma. For a woman who has given birth, our bodies potentially can make an antibody. If a woman has this antibody, it actually can prevent her from donating plasma.
RICHARD WELLS: It's a very similar process to donating blood. You sit in the machine for 35 to 40 minutes, and it really requires no effort at all [INAUDIBLE]. If there's anything that I can do as an individual to help advance the amount of knowledge that we have, we'll just be better prepared to respond appropriately.
MARIA WELLS: Our small way was to say, here's an opportunity for us to do something for others because [? others ?] [INAUDIBLE].
RICHARD WELLS: It's a bit of a cliche to say that we're all in this together, but it's literally true.