Northwest Arkansas woman receives plasma, recovers from coronavirus

Nurse Nicki Troutner (right) pushes covid-19 patient Mirna Marquez in a wheelchair Monday outside of Northwest Medical Center in Springdale as Marquez is released from the hospital after two weeks. (Courtesy Photo/Northwest Health System)
Nurse Nicki Troutner (right) pushes covid-19 patient Mirna Marquez in a wheelchair Monday outside of Northwest Medical Center in Springdale as Marquez is released from the hospital after two weeks. (Courtesy Photo/Northwest Health System)

SPRINGDALE -- Mirna Marquez mostly thought of her family while she was in the hospital. She's glad to be home with them now.

Covid-19 made the 48-year-old Hindsville woman so ill she doesn't remember receiving a transfusion of plasma from someone who had recovered from the virus.

County cases

Washington County had 612 cases of covid-19, and Benton County had 69 cases as of Thursday afternoon.

Source: Arkansas Department of Health

Dr. Stephen Hennigan, an infectious disease specialist who treated Marquez at Northwest Medical Center-Springdale, said doctors are frantically looking for treatments for coronavirus patients.

There's no known cure for the virus. Some medications seem to work for some patients, but clinical trials for those medications haven't been done, Hennigan said.

However, plasma from someone who's recovered from the virus is rich in antibodies and can be given to sick patients.

"To me, it's the very best option we have," Hennigan said.

Marquez was hospitalized for 14 days. Covid-19 patients are generally isolated and given supportive care such as oxygen.

"On her second or third hospital day, she took a dramatic turn for the worse, and she had to be put on a ventilator to stay alive," Hennigan said.

Marquez speaks little English. Her daughter, Claudia Ramos, 26, of Rogers interpreted for her mother during av interview Tuesday, the day after Marquez's release from the hospital.

Marquez doesn't know where she contracted covid-19, she said. She was screened but not tested for the virus at Community Clinic's screening site at Elmdale Elementary School in Springdale around April 1 and was told she likely had an infection in her throat.

Several screening clinics have opened in the past month or so throughout Northwest Arkansas. Clinics were only testing people who met strict criteria set by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because of a lack of tests. The state has since recommended anyone with symptoms be tested if there are enough tests.

Her symptoms worsened, and Ramos said she could hear her mom's shortness of breath over the phone. Marquez was reluctant to go to the emergency room, but her daughter and son persuaded her to do so April 5.

Marquez was admitted to Northwest Medical Center early April 6 and was released Monday, said Beth Wright, spokeswoman for Northwest Health System.

Marquez felt alone while she was isolated and unsure of what would happen, but doctors and nurses comforted her and treated her well, she said.

"It's a horrible thing to be separated from your family and not know of them or them of you," Marquez said.

She feels better but isn't completely well, and talking a lot can be overwhelming, she said. She urged everyone to take the recommended precautions to prevent the virus from spreading.

Marquez started to show signs of recovery within a day or two of receiving plasma, which was collected at the Arkansas Blood Institute in Little Rock, Hennigan said.

"This is precious," he said. "We're using it in people as quickly as we can get a hold of it."

Hennigan said he's treated about half a dozen other coronavirus patients. He described caring for the patients as "such a beautiful collaborative effort" among doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and other health professionals from hospitals all over the country, the Arkansas Department of Health, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and centers where people may donate plasma, such as the Community Blood Center of the Ozarks. The center serves all of Northwest Arkansas' major hospitals.

Three covid-19 patients were hospitalized in Northwest Arkansas as of Thursday afternoon, said Meg Mirivel, spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Health. The number of how many people total had been hospitalized in the area since the start of the pandemic wasn't available.

Community Blood Center of the Ozarks is working with hospitals to find recovered coronavirus patients who may be eligible to donate plasma to treat other patients, according to a Thursday news release from the center.

"The fact that we are a locally based organization providing all of the blood for area patients means that we can react rapidly when opportunities like this are presented. Convalescent plasma shows great promise as a treatment option and we are pleased to be providing this product for the benefit of local patients," said Anthony Roberts, executive director.

People who have tested positive for covid-19 and haven't had symptoms for 28 days and meet all blood donation requirements may be eligible to donate plasma. Interested people in donating should contact their doctors, according to the news release.

NW News on 04/24/2020

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