Rich Beckerson started getting sick in mid-March with symptom that appeared to be COVID-19 but was unable to get a test to confirm that he had the novel coronavirus.

For two weeks, Beckerson’s fever spiked up and down. His daughter took him to St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor hospital on March 29 when he began gasping for air.

Beckerson, 74, of Dearborn Heights, was tested for the virus immediately and several days later was confirmed to be positive. Since arriving, he’s been in the hospital’s intensive care unit, breathing with a ventilator and battling a fever so high on some days that nurses had to pack his body with ice. His doctors tried many interventions including the anti-malaria medication hydroxychloroquine to no avail.

But on Sunday, Beckerson began to turn around. Doctors gave Beckerson plasma donated by someone who had COVID-19 and recovered — making him one of the first hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Michigan to receive treatment that has been used for more than a century to help others overcome other viruses.

“My dad has had a fever every day since March 16,” said Brett Beckerson, one of Rich Beckerson’s six children. “Today, 12 hours after he got his plasma, he had no fever, and his breathing substantially improved and he is much more alert. It could have been naturally his time to get better. But I think this plasma played a significant role.”

Beckerson moved out of the intensive care unit Sunday afternoon, his son said. 

Doctors and researchers are recruiting those who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate the plasma in their blood because it contains antibodies that experts say could be an intervention for those battling the virus when there is no cure. 

The highly-contagious virus has created a global pandemic, infecting nearly 2.4 million people and claiming the lives of nearly 165,000, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. In Michigan, the number of COVID-19 cases has reached 31,424 and the virus has claimed the lives of 2,391 people as of Sunday. 

Researchers and doctors are trying to use plasma from donors to help patients in tandem with clinical trials so that use, and any potential recovery, is not just anecdotal.

Nigel Paneth —  a professor of epidemiology, biostatistics and pediatrics at Michigan State University and part of the leadership of the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project — said that there has been some interest in Michigan in setting up clinical trials to examine plasma use in COVID-19 patients at Ascension and Henry Ford Health System. But he wasn’t certain any work had begun yet.

“It’s possible this (case at ) St. Joe Mercy is the first in administration in the state of Michigan,” Paneth said.

At  Saint Joseph Mercy Health System, doctors are using it to help patients recover as part of the Mayo Clinic Coordinated Expanded Access to Convalescent Plasma program. The Food and Drug Administration earlier this month designated the Mayo Clinic as the lead institution providing coordinated access to investigational convalescent plasma for hospitalized patients with severe or life-threatening COVID-19.

“The one thing with COVID is we have all be struggling for an effective therapy, and there are a number of trials happening with a number of medications,” said Anurag Malani, M.D., medical director of the Infection Prevention and Control at Saint Joseph Mercy Health System.

“Hopefully, convalescent plasma is a treatment that will we will learn more about and will be something that we will be able to offer many many more patients, not just our health system but other health systems.”

There are reports from China, and other parts of the U.S. such a New York and Texas, that have been using convalescent plasma for COVID-19 patients, Malani said.

Beckerson is one of 11 patients in the St. Joseph Mercy system to be part of the program. Besides patients at the Ann Arbor location, the program will also include patients at the hospital’s Pontiac, Livonia and Muskegon locations.

Brett Beckerson said he heard about convalescent plasma on Twitter while other family members learned about it from media reports. They put out a call on Facebook for friend of friends who have had the virus to donate their plasma and people from cities such as Chicago and New York wanted to donate. He is not sure who donated the plasma for his dad but he will never forget the call he got that it was in a car and on its way to the hospital for his dad.

Brett Beckerson, 34, said he hopes that his dad will recover and will be able to watch the University of Michigan Wolverines play football, one of his dad’s favorite past times. And even be at his upcoming wedding.

“My hope is this plasma did provide the additional support my dad needed to fight this virus,” said Beckerson, of Washington D.C. “And that my dad will come though, and be one of the few survivors who are on a ventilator and can recover and come home.”

On Sunday night, Beckerson became, even more hopeful after the nurses called and put the phone up to his dad’s ear so he and his mom could say good night. He told his dad that he loved him.

After his dad has not spoken for weeks, Beckerson said, “We heard what sounded like he loves us too.”

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