By Susan Gallagher
In robust health, the administrative head of a staff of 270 at a large Southeast, Missouri, healthcare system decided all she had was a bad cold when she headed back to Missouri.
Lara Thompson left North Carolina on March 15. In Clarksville, Tennessee, on March 18, she was placed on a ventilator. Her knowledge of the medical world led her to call her father to tell him she might not see him again before she was put into an induced coma. Coronavirus had struck this Type-A mother of two after a week-long visit with her daughter at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.
“I had visited the urgent care three times in North Carolina,” Lara recalled. “They were treating me for double pneumonia, but I was not responding to the treatments. Still, I was anxious to get home to lead the COVID-19 response for my staff in setting up safe facilities for admitting, scheduling and registering patients.”
When Lara left North Carolina on March 15 to drive straight through to Missouri, she realized in Clarksville, TN, she needed to go to the hospital. “When I arrived at the Clarksville hospital, I didn’t believe I had COVID-19. I thought I did not meet any of the criteria. But they told me I had all the symptoms, and I tested positive for the virus. I was not given a good chance of survival and was alone in a strange town not knowing if I was going to survive and not being able to have any of my family with me—it was hard on everyone involved.”
After five days, the Clarksville hospital airlifted Lara to Nashville’s Centennial Hospital, where she began to recover. “I can’t say enough about how great the physicians and the nurses are there,” Lara said. “They even allowed me to Facetime with my daughters.”
On March 30, Lara Thompson finally left Nashville and headed home to recover in her house in Scott City—a small town 10 miles from Cape Girardeau.
She is returning to work on May 25 after a 10-day vacation had turned into a more than two-month ordeal of pure terror. “I really miss my work family,” said Lara.
Her first job as a K-Mart clerk at age 16 led to working in a hotel chain where she became General Manager and then on to managing everything from dental offices to imaging services to the entire patient access operation for St. Francis Health Care System.
It was two physician friends who urged her to consider donating plasma. Lara learned that because she fought the infection, her plasma now contains COVID-19 antibodies---proteins that might help others conquer the disease. In fact, government scientists, academic researchers and pharmaceutical firms are all scrambling for blood plasma in hopes of developing a range of potential treatments for a disease that has struck almost 4.4 million worldwide and more than 1.4 million in the U.S.
Plasma is being collected to create a concentrated antibody serum that may prevent or halt infection in the future. But only a fraction of those infected with COVID-19 have recovered sufficiently to donate–though more survivors become eligible every day.
Since late March, the Red Cross, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Red Cross industry partners have worked around the clock to establish a process to identify, qualify and collect convalescent plasma safely from recovered COVID-19 individuals.
In April, Lara called the Red Cross about donating her plasma and learned that she had to have no symptoms for at least 28 days prior to donating. A negative lab test for active COVID-19 disease is not necessary to qualify for donation, but Lara was tested twice – with negative results both times.
“On April 29, I went to the Cape Girardeau Red Cross Donation Center to donate and found it to be a painless process,” she said. “I can donate every 28 days. I think anyone who has recovered should consider this. Those of us who survived this are fortunate and blessed to have recovered from COVID, and if there’s a chance we can save someone else’s life, that’s the most important thing we can do.”
What has she learned from this traumatic experience? “It definitely has made me think about everything I once took for granted. My words of wisdom for someone who is struggling with this disease are that ‘you can recover. You have to push yourself and fight as hard as you have ever struggled for anything. And once you recover, you should consider donating plasma, and also blood, to help someone else.’”