Barbara Sterling’s inspirational story of survival is well-known in the halls of Methodist Charlton Medical Center. After all, the DeSoto grandmother was the hospital’s first COVID-19 patient. The 62-year-old was also among the first there to receive convalescent plasma from a recovered patient, a treatment her family believes saved her life. Barbara’s send-off from Methodist Charlton was all over the local TV news.
Barbara’s remarkable recovery story is familiar, it seems, to everyone but Barbara.
“I don’t remember anything,” Barbara says. “I don’t remember feeling sick. I don’t remember going to the hospital or the treatment. But when my family tells me the story of my time there, I get chills.”
Barbara spent 54 days in the intensive care unit (ICU), 33 of them were on a ventilator. Although her family members could only see her through video chats, her husband and son were warned she might not make it. Barbara had several underlying health conditions, including diabetes. In fact, her family thought they were about to plan her funeral.
“I believe God sent me to Methodist Charlton, sick with COVID-19, so the doctors could work through me and learn through me,” Barbara says. “I am so grateful to them.”
How the plasma works
Mahesh Kottapalli, MD, infectious disease specialist on the medical staff at Methodist Charlton, oversaw Barbara’s care and her treatment with convalescent plasma. Dr. Kottapalli explains the blood product is taken from a patient who has recovered from COVID-19. The plasma contains antibodies, which can attack the virus in a patient like Barbara, helping them to recover.
“The success rate when using the plasma has been very high here. I personally have not had any deaths from COVID-19 patients who received convalescent plasma,” Dr. Kottapalli says.
Barbara’s family says after receiving the plasma, Barbara improved almost immediately. Dr. Kottapalli says they have learned a lot from patients like Barbara. For example, Methodist Health physicians are routinely transfusing patients with plasma as soon as they are admitted to the hospital.
“Convalescent plasma seems to be on the uptick in terms of how many people want to use it,” says Karen Roush, MD, vice-chair of pathology for Methodist Health System. “I had a physician tell me that when used early on, he thought it was better than Remdesivir. We’re transfusing patients much, much earlier than we were so that certainly could make a difference.”
Time to return the favor
After Barbara was released from Methodist Charlton, she needed time to recover in a rehabilitation hospital. That’s common after long stays in the ICU.
But now, Barbara is back home and planning to pay it forward. “When my doctor gives me the ‘OK,’ I’m going to donate my plasma so I can help a COVID-19 patient the same way someone else helped me,” she says.
Dr. Kotapalli encourages others to do the same. He says any COVID-19 survivor who qualifies to give blood can donate their plasma starting up to 20 days after a full recovery. For more information on how to donate, visit here.