By MATT McDONALD
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
On April 21st, Liliana Locke of Bend is admitted to St. Charles with COVID-19.
“I will let you do anything you guys need to do, but you have to promise me… you have to bring me back. I cannot die yet,” said Locke
Prior to getting COVID-19, the 53-year-old was healthy with no pre-exisiting conditions. She says she was exposed to a family member and within two days fell ill. Once at St. Charles, she was soon in and out of consciousness.
“They wake me up and say Liliana, we are going to intubate you. You are not doing well,” said Locke.
Liliana’s kidneys started failing. Doctors put her on dialysis. The updates for her family turned grim
“I will let you do anything you guys need to do, but you have to promise me…you have to bring me back. I cannot die yet.”
– Liliana Locke
“The doctors were calling my husband and saying, be ready because I don’t think she is going to make it,” said Locke.
She became the first local patient to be infused with blood plasma from a COVID-19 survivor, an experimental procedure. Three days after the infusion, she woke up.
“You wake up and you are alone. You cannot see your loved ones. You feel the isolation. You feel the emptiness,” said Locke. It was the start of a very long hard path toward recovery. “When I got out of the hospital, the hardest part was that, and I still get emotional, I wasn’t able to walk.”
Her speech was slurred, and her muscles were so weak she struggled to write.
“This virus is very complicated; it attacks people in different ways,” said Locke.
Ways doctors are just starting to learn. Dr. Jeff Absalon, the Chief Medical Officer for St. Charles says the medical community is still learning about the impacts of both COVID-19 and the treatments used to keep patients alive.
“A fairly significant number of people develop cardiac problems or heart problems…blood clots are also a concern…kidney damage, ongoing fatigue…ongoing difficulties with shortness of breath”
Liliana’s kidneys are functioning again, but the once active 53-year-old tires easily and has high blood pressure for the first time in her life.
“I have a lot of scarring from this, you know. I don’t know, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Locke. “It attacks you physically, emotionally….I felt like I put my family in so much pain, but it wasn’t my fault at all, this virus is attacking everybody.”
Two weeks after leaving the hospital, Liliana was declared COVID free. It was the first time in over a month she was able to hug her husband and daughter.
“I have a second time, second chance I would say, sorry, to be alive and I appreciate more, more things in life,” said Locke.
Six weeks after leaving the hospital, she returned to work as a medical assistant.
“Recovery is hard from this, you know, it’s really hard,” said Lock.
She doesn’t know if her body has sustained permanent damage. It’s a question she already worries about while working to recover.
Dr. Anna Dolezal administered the plasma treatment at St. Charles to Locke.
Dolezal says as of July 16th, eight total patients under their care have been treated with plasma infusions from recovered COVID-19 cases. It is still an experimental treatment but Dolezal says the Mayo clinic protocol is showing results.
“So far, over 38,000 patients have been transfused convalescent plasma through the Mayo national expanded access protocol. Mayo published some information looking at the first 20,000 transfusions and found a very low number of serious adverse events that were attributed to the transfusion itself (in a short time frame after transfusion), just 146 out of 20,000 patients,” Dolezal said. “While the Mayo protocol is not a true medical trial and is not designed to measure efficacy, they still reported some information that I find hopeful.
“In the data from the first 5,000 hospitalized patients who received plasma through this protocol, the overall mortality at 7 days was 12% whereas it dropped to 8.6% in the latest report of the first 20,000 patients. We can’t say that this is because of the plasma because these patients received plasma as well as all kind of other treatments, but it signals to me that we’re getting better at treating COVID-19.”
Dolezal encourages COVID-19 survivors to donate plasma to help future patients.
Locke plans to become a plasma donor once she returns to better health.