Driving down the unpaved road that leads to his Glen Rock home should be normal for Wade Young. With fire trucks escorting him home, Wade rode past dozens of neighbors lining the usually quiet street to greet him. Members of the United States Marine Corps and honor guard were there as well, along with nurses from WellSpan York Hospital. This return home was anything but normal for Wade. In his eyes, it was a miracle.
“Things were very serious at one point,” said Wade. “After going through what I went through, I wake up every day grateful to still be here.”
In February, the 61-year old former Marine was battling pneumonia. By the time the calendar turned to April, he was practically living in bed.
“I was afraid I was having a cancer relapse, because I had mantle cell lymphoma in 2014,” explained Wade. “I went to my oncologist, who ruled that out, but ordered a test for COVID-19. 24 hours later, my result came back positive.”
Wade tried to recover at home for a week but wasn’t getting any better. He then went to the emergency department at WellSpan York Hospital.
Wade was taken to the ICU, where he ultimately had to be put into an induced coma and on a ventilator. For Wade, the experience is mostly a blur, but for his wife Deb, it was traumatic.
“It was like a roller coaster. One day you would get good news, one day you would get bad news,” said Deb. “Early on, he said he’s not going to leave me. And I did believe that. I knew he would put up a really good fight. I knew it.”
Doctors at WellSpan York Hospital eventually decided to give Wade Young convalescent plasma therapy. The Food and Drug Administration’s expanded access program through the Mayo Clinic has allowed WellSpan Health physicians to offer the investigational treatment to patients, with Wade being the first patient to receive it. As part of the treatment, physicians take blood plasma donated by those who have recovered from COVID-19, which contains antibodies to the disease, and gave it to Wade.
“This is the liquid portion of the blood that contains antibodies and it can help boost the immune system of COVID-19 patients,” said Qammar Abbas, M.D., a pulmonary and critical care specialist with WellSpan Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine. “Since this is a new disease, there have not been any large studies to prove the safety and effectiveness of convalescent plasma. We have seen here at WellSpan a vast majority of patients benefit from it, though. As long as we are awaiting a vaccine, I believe we need to continue to use this, as it appears to be safe and improve recovery time.”
“As soon as they gave it to him, he seemed to start improving,” said Deb, who was comforted by the doctors and nurses working to treat her husband. “They were absolutely amazing. Every day they would talk to me, maybe two or three times a day. They were so informative and so on top of everything. They were just excellent.”
The oxygen levels in Wade’s blood increased. He was taken off the ventilator, and ultimately moved out of the ICU.
“Plasma brought me out of the coma when I was in ICU, got me off the ventilator, turned the corner for me, got me on the road to recovery,” said Wade. “I’m very grateful for the plasma. I can’t say enough good things about the people who donated their blood for this. Words can’t express how grateful I am for them.”
Physicians had to wait a day before giving Wade the convalescent plasma treatment. There currently are not enough local donors to fill the demand, and blood plasma has to be shipped from other locations.
“Because we don’t have enough donors, we have to get the plasma from remote areas and then wait for it to arrive,” explained Abbas. “When treating COVID-19, time is of the essence. I would ask all of our local population to donate, because it could mean saving a life.”
More than five weeks after arriving at the hospital, Wade was finally able to go back home. Looking back, he says he is thrilled to have been treated at WellSpan York Hospital.
“The doctors and nurses took such a personal approach with me, always being there for me,” said Wade. “Because it’s an infectious disease, every time they came into my room, they’d have to put on a gown, gloves and other equipment. But never once did I hear them complain. They always had a happy smile on their face. And they truly saved my life.”
Wade’s road to recovery wasn’t a quick one. He spent two weeks in physical therapy, re-learning how to walk. When he was finally able to return home, he was treated to a homecoming celebration, organized by his wife. His focus is now on the future, continuing to recover and giving back to help others facing the same battle he is now finally on the other side of.
“Once I fully recover and I’m a lot stronger, maybe six months down the road, maybe sooner, I’m definitely going to donate blood so they can create more plasma to help other people that have gone through this process,” said Wade.
Those who are interested in donating plasma can call their local blood donation center for an appointment, 717-741-8307 (York), 717-270-8960 (Lebanon) or visit WellSpan Blood Donor Services in York or WellSpan Blood Donor Center in Lebanon.