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Arizona man recovering from COVID-19 is now part of new therapy aimed at slowing the virus

Convalescent plasma therapy aims to help patients develop a boost to fight coronavirus

PHOENIX — When 21-year-old Jack Schmittlein came down with a minor head cold and a dry cough at the beginning of March while overseas, he didn't think much of it at the time. 

Then the presidential European travel ban went into effect. Schmittlein cut his studies in Barcelona short and came home to Scottsdale. He wanted to get a test to make sure he had COVID-19 but wasn't able to. Then his roommate in Spain tested positive for the virus. After that, he was able to get a test through the Mayo Clinic, and a week later it came back positive.

"My only symptoms were a tightness in my chest and a loss of taste, which I learned later on was a sign of COVID-19. I was very fortunate in that regard," he said. 

Schmittlein self-quarantined for two weeks, and when he was symptom-free, he was given the all-clear. Since he completed all of his testing through the Mayo Clinic, they had record of his status. That's when Mayo reached out to him about being a potential donor in a new anti-body therapy. Mayo coordinated a time with donor center Vitalant for Schmittlein to donate plasma. 

The procedure is similar to donating blood. In this case, it took about 80 minutes to complete.

Credit: AP
This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the spherical particles of the new coronavirus, colorized blue, from the first U.S. case of COVID-19. Antibody blood tests for the coronavirus could play a key role in deciding whether millions of Americans can safely return to work and school. But public health officials warn that the current “Wild West” of unregulated tests is creating confusion that could ultimately slow the path to recovery. (Hannah A. Bullock, Azaibi Tamin/CDC via AP)

Right now, there is no vaccine or proven treatment for COVID-19. While some trials for a vaccine are underway, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified and approved the procedure that Schmittlein took part in – called convalescent plasma treatment – as an “emergency investigational new drug.”

So far, it is the only antibody treatment available to COVID-19 patients. The treatment may give the body more fight against the virus by using antibodies that are active against the disease.

"I'm kind of in a unique position, being one of the first to test negative and have it early on," Schmittlein said.

He was happy to help. He says he hopes in the coming days and weeks that others will help out too. 

"I think that just getting the word out there, even if it makes a difference for just one person that is in an ICU bed, that's huge. That could potentially save a life," he said. 

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