2 New Jersey coronavirus patients recovering after plasma treatment, hospital says

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The first two coronavirus patients in New Jersey to undergo experimental plasma treatments are now recovering from the virus, according to the hospital where they are being treated.

The patients — Renee Bannister, 63, and Andy Fei, 61 — became the first two patients in the state to receive a convalescent plasma transfusion earlier this month, according to a news release from Virtua Health, the parent company to Virtua Voorhees Hospital, where the patients are.

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Prior to the transfusion, both Bannister and Fei required a ventilator and the prognosis for both was “grim,” the hospital said. Now, the patients are out of the intensive care unit (ICU) and are expected to soon return home.

After attempting “various treatments and interventions,” Dr. Lukasz Polisiakiewicz, who is treating Bannister, began to explore the possibility of convalescent plasma therapy, receiving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval to do so just a day after the agency approved the experimental treatment option. Fortunately, Bannister’s niece, Marisa Leuzzi, matched as a donor.

“I truly felt like I was given a gift to help others and there was no hesitation for me to become a donor,” Marisa said in a statement.

The transfusion took place on April 3, with Bannister seeing improvement almost immediately.

“Within hours of the plasma donation, Renee’s oxygen flow improved. Within five days, her vital signs had returned to normal ranges. Eleven days after the transfusion, the Virtua team removed Renee from the ventilator,” the hospital said.

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She is no longer in the ICU and is expected to move to a rehabilitation center before eventually making her way home. Her husband, Greg, said he is “relieved and overjoyed” that his wife is on the mend.

Dr. Eric Sztejman, the physician treating Fei, received approval from the FDA to use the treatment option on his patient as well. Fei also received plasma from Leuzzi, Bannister’s niece. About nine days after undergoing the treatment on April 5, he was removed from the ventilator, according to the hospital.

His family knew he was in better spirits when Fei, a professional opera singer, asked medical staff to play recordings of the late Italian opera tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

“Each day when we spoke to the nurses and doctors, we heard tiny indications that his condition was improving. Sometimes we could even hear Luciano Pavarotti [recordings] in the background, which we had asked them to play for him. Pavarotti is dad’s favorite,” said one of Fei’s sons, Patrick, in a statement.

“We can’t wait to hear him sing again someday. Frankly, just to have a meal together as a family is going to be an amazing experience,” he added.

Plasma from recovered COVID-19 cases is transfused to critically ill COVID-19 patients, with the hope that the antibodies will help the patient fight or neutralize the disease. The Red Cross said that as of April 20, it had delivered over 120 convalescent plasma products to hospitals.

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The FDA is facilitating access to the COVID-19 convalescent plasma for use in patients with serious or immediately life-threatening infections. Dr. Eduardo Oliveira, critical care specialist and pulmonologist at AdventHealth, a nonprofit health care system based in Florida, previously told Fox News that the approach has had “some degree of success” in COVID-19 patients in China.

The news comes after a Pennsylvania hospital earlier this week voiced cautious optimism in coronavirus plasma transfusion therapy after one of its young COVID-19 patients successfully recovered.

Fox News's Kayla Rivas contributed to this report.