This time last week, Ed Lundergan and Carol Giannone Lundergan of New Paltz, who had been battling COVID-19 since mid-March, were ready to participate in a program to donate their blood to help other patients fight off the virus. Both had been feeling well for over a week. They just needed to be tested once again to confirm that they were negative. That test happened Friday, April 10. Over the weekend, Carol felt some fatigue, as well as some coughing and congestion, but thought she was still on the road to recovery. Three days later, they learned they were still positive.
Carol said the couple were “gobsmacked” by the news. “To think that this virus is still prevalent enough in our bodies to present another positive result is very troubling, humbling and, honestly, scary.”
Sharing the experience
Ed is a SUNY New Paltz professor and artistic director of Kairos: A Consort of Singers. Carol runs a software company for labor unions. The couple has been very open about their illness, sharing it on Facebook and getting a lot of community support during their three-week-long quarantine. “People have been so supportive and so kind,” said Carol. She had posted updates on their diagnosis and health for her large following on the New Paltz Community Facebook group.
Carol and Ed’s openness about living through COVID-19 has provided insight into the illness for their friends, neighbors and community. “I’ve had the flu a couple of years ago and it was awful, but I only felt horrible for a few days,” said Carol. “This one lasted over two weeks.” She had a terrible cough and felt “crappy,” After a week or so, she started to feel better, “and then it came back again!”
Ed said that when Carol was feeling particularly bad that second week of the virus, he had to drive her to the emergency room at Vassar and “they wheeled her into the emergency room. I didn’t know if I was ever going to see her again. She was released, but that was a moment I won’t forget.”
Ed had more typical flu-like symptoms of high fevers and body aches. Both reported an incredible fatigue from the virus. “The fatigue was the amazing thing,” said Carol. “I felt like I would literally hit a brick wall and couldn’t move or think straight or do anything.”
The real thing
As the two slowly emerged from the illness and their quarantine, they learned that their plasma was in great demand, both as a way to treat patients and potentially to find a vaccine. “We received a letter lifting our quarantine,” said Carol. When first diagnosed, they were visited by a nurse from the Ulster County Department of Health (DOH), who had them sign two sets of legal documents putting them into quarantine.
“It was surreal. It took me aback and was a little scary,” recalled Carol.
“It made you realize that this is the real thing. This is serious,” added Ed.
There are clinical trials in New York that need plasma donated from people who had recovered from the virus. “I called Mount Sinai, but never heard back,” Carol said.
They had better luck locally. “Someone mentioned a program through Vassar [Brothers] Hospital, which I found on their website and signed up. A woman contacted me right away and told me what the process was.”
Asked at the time why they would want to subject themselves to more testing and donating their blood, Carol said, “How could we not? We’re both in our mid-60s. I have asthma and diabetes. We’re so fortunate to have gotten through this. So, what if I have to get an extra swab and get stuck? If we can help save someone’s life?”
Carol and Ed had to be symptom-free and send proof that they had tested positive. A doctor sent them a prescription to get tested again, which they did last week in Kingston. If those tests had come back negative, the next step would have been to make an appointment with the Red Cross to donate their blood.
People with loved ones were ill were reaching out to Carol and Ed desperately trying to get some plasma from them. “A man contacted me because his son is very ill with the virus and he wanted to know if I could donate plasma,” she said. “He sounded so desperate to help his son. It was painful. We’ve received several e-mails and texts like that.”
Though unable to help in that way, the couple were excited to be part of a potentially life-saving solution to an illness that isn’t expected to have an effective drug therapy for several more months or vaccine for 12-18 months.
“I’m really excited to be a part of something that could possibly save someone else’s life,” said Carol last week. “If my antibodies can help, I’m all for it!”
When their latest test came back positive, they were placed back in quarantine, unable to donate their plasma as planned. They warned their community that when the DOH had originally lifted their quarantine, they had gone out to a local supermarket and health-food store.
We know so little about it
The couple are not alone in their experience of being surprised by a second positive test. A recent op/ed in The New York Times by a woman who was diagnosed, hospitalized and released from the hospital spoke about her lingering symptoms, the lack of clarity and data on what constitutes “recovery” from this novel coronavirus. South Korea reported 91 patients tested positive again after a negative test and abatement of symptoms. (To be clear, Ed and Carol never tested negative.)
So much remains unknown about the virus. We still don’t know much about its prevalence in the population, its causes, transmission, seasonality, complications, and long-term health impacts. With more than 10,000 fatalities in New York State alone, we’re in the dark as to how long infected patients remain contagious or what recovery looks like.
Ed and Carol, enthusiastic about trying to help others, have made us all realize just how little we know about this virus. Hudson Valley One will continue to document the Lundergans’ journey to being a part of the COVID-19 solution.