North Dakota coronavirus survivor credits plasma donation for recovery

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Gene Bad Hawk phoned loved ones on May 5 asking for prayers before entering the hospital for the fourth time due to complications from coronavirus.

In the 20 days since the North Dakota man’s diagnosis, he suffered from high fevers, persistent headaches, nausea, diarrhea and had hardly any appetite, according to the Duluth News Tribune. Then Bad Hawk became dehydrated and lost 26 pounds.

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“I thought I was going to die,” he told the Duluth News Tribune.

On the fourth visit, Bad Hawk’s conditions worsened, with low blood-oxygen levels and shortness of breath.

Given his low blood-oxygen levels, doctors at Essentia Health decided to administer a convalescent plasma transfusion with neutralizing antibodies to help fight the disease, according to the news outlet.

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Bad Hawk said he felt a little better the next morning, and at the end of the day he reportedly felt good enough to eat his first meal in 10 days. He was discharged on May 8, and 11 days later he told the outlet he didn’t have any symptoms.

Bad Hawk credits the treatment with saving his life.

The experimental plasma treatment is only administered to coronavirus patients with low blood oxygen levels, Dr. Karol Kremens, pulmonologist and director of the intensive care unit at Essentia Health, told the Duluth News Tribune. While some initial treatments have been encouraging, there is no clear proof the treatment is effective, Kremens said.

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Of six patients who received plasma donations at Essentia Health in Fargo, N.D., two died, Kremens told the news outlet. Health officials in Fargo work with Vitalant, a nonprofit blood bank that serves the region’s hospitals.

Several reports surfaced in late April of critically ill coronavirus patients recovering after plasma treatments as well, like two patients in New Jersey who were the first to undergo the treatment statewide.

Prior to the transfusion, the patients — Renee Bannister, 63, and Andy Fei, 61 — required a ventilator and the prognosis for both was "grim," according to a statement from Virtua Health. Bannister saw improvement almost immediately; her oxygen flow improved within hours after the plasma donation, and within five days her vital signs returned to normal ranges. Bannister was removed from the ventilator after 11 days and was moved to a rehabilitation center before making her way home.

Fei was taken off the ventilator about nine days after receiving the plasma donation, according to the doctor who treated him, Dr. Eric Sztejman.

Similarly, a Massachusetts patient in critical care from coronavirus-related complications improved within a few hours after the plasma donation. Previously, the patient had relied on maximum support from a ventilator.

Duluth News Tribune said the plasma treatment is "viewed as an interim treatment" while the search for an effective vaccine against COVID-19 continues.

Fox News' Madeline Farber contributed to this report.