ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Last week, 53-year-old Kevin Rathel was on life support, fighting the coronavirus. Now he is in recovery and off the ventilator.
Kevin's wife, Stacie said he was the first COVID-19 patient to receive the potentially life-saving convalescent plasma treatment at Orlando Regional Medical Center in Orlando.
“The last time I saw him, he was sitting in a chair and trying to crack jokes with the staff,” Dr. Timothy Jones said.
Jones is the critical care medicine fellowship program director at Orlando Health.
"We've taken care of several critically ill patients with COVID-19 and unfortunately some have not made it, so it's always a blessing when our patients get better," Jones said.
Stacie said the nurses help the family communicate with Kevin by using video chat. She and their three kids spoke to him Thursday.
“I asked if he was in any pain and he said no. He’s still battling delirium and he’s just mentally and physically fatigued,” Stacie said.
Kevin has been in the hospital for nearly two weeks and when other forms of treatment weren't working, Stacie said she was persistent in getting doctors to try the convalescent plasma therapy.
"I was rabid about seeing this thing through," said Stacie.
She had to find a donor, someone with the same blood type who recovered from COVID-19. So she went to Facebook to find what she describes as, a needle in a haystack. That’s when she met James Crocker through a mutual friend. He met all the requirements but lived in South Florida.
"The moment it went from general to 'my friend's friend needs plasma and it's his only hope. That's the moment I had to drop anything and go and I'm so glad I did," said Crocker.
Without thinking twice he drove to Orlando to donate plasma.
“The sharing of this experience has been one of the most amazing experiences in my life. I’m looking forward to going fishing with Kevin and his family,” Crocker said.
He said the most difficult part of the process was finding a rapid response test so he can be cleared to donate plasma. He said he was able to get one from Orlando Health.
Stacie believes it was an act of God that connected them. She encourages other families who have loved ones battling COVID-19 to not give up.
"Don't take a passive role, keep fighting. But ultimately I feel it's in God's hands. Who can say why some people win the fight and some people don't. I don't have those answers, I just feel God is not finished with his story," said Stacie.
Crocker said he is working with community leaders to create a website to help connect potential plasma donors to the patients who really need them.
In order to donate convalescent plasma there are requirements:
• COVID-19 convalescent plasma must only be collected from recovered individuals if they are eligible to donate blood.
• Required testing must be performed and the donation must be found suitable.
• Prior diagnosis of COVID-19 documented by a laboratory test.
• Complete resolution of symptoms at least 14 days prior to donation.
• Have a negative result for COVID-19.
• Meet all standard FDA blood donation requirements.
Visit oneblood.org to learn more about donating plasma.
Potential donors can fill out a pre-donation form online to ensure they qualify.