Video of an empty downtown Reno March 29, 2020. Reno Gazette Journal
Austin Meegan, a 24-year-old nursing assistant, is fighting for his life against the coronavirus in Renown Regional Medical Center’s intensive care unit.
His mother Kristen Valler’s Facebook page documents his tortured journey since Meegan’s hospitalization on April 12: A mechanical ventilator is pumping oxygen into his lungs. His kidneys are overtaxed and not functioning well. The anti-malaria drugs have run their course. And he’s still sick.
Now, Valler is on a desperate hunt for a rare blood plasma that could be her family’s next hope for Meegan’s recovery. And she’s pleading with the community for help.
“They are having a hard time finding the plasma for Austin because his blood type is AB-positive, which is rare,” Valler wrote on her Facebook page. “They said there is about a 3 percent chance of finding the plasma. Please, please, please if you have this blood type and are recovered from COVID please donate.”
Valler said her son is eligible for an experimental treatment program overseen by the Mayo Clinic in which a coronavirus patient is given the plasma from someone who has already recovered from the virus. The antibodies in the donor’s blood can help fight the virus and hopefully speed the patient’s recovery, according to the Mayo Clinic.
It may be the first time the convalescent plasma therapy is administered at Renown, Valler said.
Dr. Christopher Kozlowski, Renown’s institutional research officer, said he could not talk about Meegan’s case specifically, but confirmed local hospitals are participating in the experimental therapy program, which has shown promise.
“It’s for patients whose recovery is not as quick as we would hope,” he said. “Somebody who is sick with COVID-19 who may be getting worse, who is critically ill, who does not appear to be recovering and might benefit from the antibodies.”
As a nursing assistant, Meegan is on the front lines of the coronavirus fight, caring for his own patients. The virus has taken a toll on health care workers both nationally and locally.
But that’s not something Valler can bring herself to talk about. She needs to stay focused on the positive.
“I don’t want to talk about that right now,” she said. “I can’t talk about that right now.”
Valler said her son genuinely loves taking care of his elderly patients, listening to their stories in particular. When he’s not working he’s practicing his skills in the kitchen.
“His favorite thing to do is cook and (he’s) really good at it,” Valler said. “He keeps track of all his recipes possibly to write a cookbook.”
Valler’s favorite dish from her son is butter chicken.
Late Monday, a glimmer of hope came through for Valler.
“I think we found a match for Austin,” she said.
She said they found a possible donor in Texas, but are trying to figure out how the plasma will make its way to Reno.
Coronavirus in Reno: Food Truck Friday opening delayed by COVID-19
Researchers, both nationally and locally, are still pleading for donations from recovered COVID-19 patients.
Nationally, the convalescent plasma treatment is being studied by a coalition of independent researchers led by the Mayo Clinic. The group is working with the American Red Cross to find donors across the country.
“It’s very, very important for the general public to understand this is not like a drug where they can increase the number of shifts and ramp up the production line at the drug company,” said lead researcher Dr. Michael Joyner in a video press release earlier this month. “This is a biological product that has to be obtained from a specific set of patients who have recovered from COVID-19, who meet rigorous criteria and go through a process to obtain this material. So it is very complicated.”
Locally, Renown Health and other area hospitals are partnering with Vitalant to collect plasma from recovered donors, Kozlowski said.
“The real intent is to get plasma as quickly as possible to the patients who need it,” Kozlowski said. “The plasma needs to be matched just like a blood transfusion needs to be. So the more we have in the inventory the better off both the community and country will be.”
Kozlowski encouraged anyone in Northern Nevada who has recovered from the virus to consider donating.
To be eligible to donate, a person must be at least 17 years old, weigh more than 110 pounds and be healthy. They also must have had a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 and be fully recovered from the infection.
Valler is praying that just such a donor can be found for her son.
“Austin promised me to fight every day,” she said on her Facebook page. “And I am holding him to it right now.”
When Meegan could still text with his mom from the hospital, he told her what he wants to eat when he gets home.
“Chicken wings and kettle corn,” Valler said. “But not together.”
Class of 2020 and COVID-19: Sparks High senior adjusts to distance learning, misses school
Anjeanette Damon is the government watchdog reporter for the RGJ. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @AnjeanetteDamon. If you care about shining a bright light on decisions made by your elected officials, please consider subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal.
Read or Share this story: https://www.rgj.com/story/news/2020/04/21/coronavirus-covid-19-nevada-reno-plasma-renown/2999155001/