Plasma donation helps save Indy man diagnosed with COVID-19

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INDIANAPOLIS – In April, Dave Falkenburg was diagnosed with COVID-19. As a kidney transplant recipient, Falkenburg, 64, has a compromised immune system, putting him at high-risk of getting severely sick from coronavirus.

“I felt scared on one end of it, but I had a peace that whatever was going to happen will happen,” Falkenburg said.

Falkenburg says a plasma donation saved his life, and he encourages others to donate.

“I thought, once they put me on the ventilator, I may not wake up here on earth,” he said.

Falkenburg said his symptoms worsened quickly.

“I could barely even lift my head or get out of bed,” he said.

He ended up at IU Health Methodist Hospital, where, just two years ago, he had a kidney transplant.

Now, he was alone, only able to talk to his wife briefly over Facetime.

Doctors asked if Falkenburg would participate in a trial treatment using convalescent plasma from a recovered COVID-19 patient.

“At this point I was feeling pretty horrible, so I signed the papers and I said sure,” Falkenburg recalled. “They were running out of options because I couldn’t breathe.”

One of the first patients at IU Health to receive this treatment, Falkenburg got the infusion just before going on a ventilator.

“When we see patients with immunosuppression, especially with organ transplants, it is a very dangerous situation,” said Dr. Nicolas Barros, a transplant infectious disease specialist at IU Health and the doctor who treated Falkenburg.

Dr. Barros said, often the earlier plasma is administered, the better the outcome.

“Patients within four to seven days start to have the most important changes, and, after that, if there has not been a lot of changes, it’s unlikely to be helpful,” he said.

The moment he woke up, Falkenburg knew the treatment worked.

“I felt so much better,” he said. “I was able to talk, carry on a good conversation with the nurses.”

For the second time in his life, someone stepped in and saved him.

“I went through the transplant and I went through this, and believe me transplant was a lot easier to go through than the COVID-19,” Falkenburg said.

He’ll never know who the plasma donor was, but he encourages others to donate too.

“I’m alive thanks to a donor,” Falkenburg said. “How good would you feel if you knew you saved somebody’s life?”

Click here to learn more about donating convalescent plasma.

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