First Utahn to get experimental COVID-19 plasma treatment is home from the hospital

May 1, 2020, 5:38 PM
Experimental plasma COVID-19 Utah...
Dr. Brandon Webb and Dr. Davis Morris from Intermountain Healthcare discuss a promising treatment for COVID-19 patients in Utah. Donated plasma helped one woman who was in a coma to recover. (Photo: Intermountain Healthcare)
(Photo: Intermountain Healthcare)

SALT LAKE CITY – 24-year-old Cynthia Lemus is a flight attendant from Salt Lake City. And even though she is young and healthy, she had an experimental COVID-19 plasma treatment. The virus put her into a coma and on a life support machine. 

But Lemus’s story has a happy ending: she is now awake, out of the hospital, and recovering at home after becoming the first Utahn to undergo an experimental COVID-19 plasma transfusion, from another COVID-19 patient. 

Lemus is tired. But she is optimistic about making a full recovery. 

“I’m hoping, within maybe a month or two, to be fully to myself again … My body has really shown I’m a fighter,” Lemus said. 

Experimental COVID-19 plasma treatment sponsored by the FDA

She joined doctors from Intermountain Healthcare on a virtual news conference Friday to talk about the innovative plasma treatment that is giving Utahns who get severely sick with COVID-19 hope of recovery. 

The Food and Drug Administration is investigating whether plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients can help others with the virus to recover. Intermountain Health Care and the Red Cross are participating in the FDA program.

Lemus got her plasma from a COVID-19 patient in Minnesota.

The science behind the experimental COVID-19 plasma treatment

Dr. Brandon Webb, the Chair of Intermountain Healthcare’s COVID-19 Therapeutics Team, explained the science behind it. 

“The theory is that those antibodies [in the plasma] would then attach to virus particles and neutralize those virus particles, or cause them to not be able to cause the infection and tissue damage that they normally cause,” Webb said. 

How is it working? 

Dr. Webb thinks it’s too soon to say whether the treatment is successful, but it looks promising. 

Experimental COVID-19 plasma treatment looks promising

“What we can say is that it’s been safely delivered to all of the patients who have received it,” Webb said.  “And that all of the patients who’ve received it to date are in the process of recovery.” 

So far, 11 people have received the plasma transfusion and two more are scheduled to receive it. 

Those who wish to donate their plasma are encouraged to contact the American Red Cross of Utah.    

Coronavirus resources

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus is transmitted from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A

Utah’s Coronavirus Information

UtahState Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States

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First Utahn to get experimental COVID-19 plasma treatment is home from the hospital