Michele Polinsky

Michele Pelkowski

Sr. Director, Global Communications

April 22, 2020

From Local Survivor to Lifesaver: Marisa Leuzzi shares her incredible journey with COVID-19

Marisa Leuzzi, Senior Specialist, Global Communications, from our Exton Headquarters, is one of the growing number of coronavirus survivors. Her experiences with her illness is not uncommon – but what she did after her recovery to keep her family whole is remarkable.

Marisa Leuzzi

Marisa at the American Red Cross during her plasma donation

Presumptive positive. Those were the first words Marisa remembers reading in the test results she received in her email on March 17. After the initial shock passed, she followed the appropriate protocol and worked with the local Department of Health. Despite battling fevers up to 103° F for 8 days, Marisa was considered a ‘mild’ case and was fortunate enough to be able to recover at home.

At the same time, Marisa’s aunt was fighting her own battle with COVID-19- although not as successfully. They had not seen each other in months so it was a coincidence they both contracted the virus. As Marisa was beginning to recover, her aunt was starting to decline and was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and intubated on a ventilator to help her ailing lungs to function at 90%. Doctors attempted several treatments and interventions, but none had yielded success and her condition continued to worsen.

Marisa saw news reports about a new experimental FDA therapy that uses convalescent plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients. The availability of the plasma was extremely rare, and the therapy was still unproven in COVID-19 patients – but Marisa wanted to help others, especially her aunt. She contacted her team of doctors about becoming a donor.

“Convalescent plasma possesses protective antibodies. Because COVID-19 is relatively new, the blood banks don’t have reserves at the ready,” Marisa said.

Doctors investigated the possibility of convalescent plasma therapy and received FDA approval to move forward with the donation just one day after the federal agency authorized the treatment option. A cross-disciplinary team of medical experts, and the American Red Cross worked tirelessly to extract, transport, and transfuse the plasma, and conduct all the necessary tests each step of the way. They also coordinated with the Mayo Clinic, who is spearheading convalescent plasma research nationwide.

On April 3, Marisa’s aunt became the first person in New Jersey to participate in the investigational use of convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19. Marisa is the first donor for this initiative nationwide through the American Red Cross, also one of our capstone charities here at West.

The night before she received the plasma infusion, Marisa’s aunt’s condition started to significantly decline. “The doctors called us at 11 p.m. to prepare us for the worse. They did not think she would make it through the night and said they're giving her about 12 hours to live,” Marisa shared. “We were up all night on the phone with Red Cross to see if we could fast track the routine testing required before it goes to a patient. They were already expediating the process as fast as they could, and we just held onto hope that she’d hold on so we can at least get her the infusion.”

Within hours of the plasma donation, her aunt’s oxygen flow improved. Within five days, her vital signs had returned to normal ranges. On April 14, after 22 days on a ventilator, Marisa’s aunt was removed extubated from the ventilator. She was recently discharged from the hospital and is currently recovering in a rehabilitation center where she needs help learning how to walk again. Marisa’s donation was also enough to help a second patient in the same hospital. After receiving the infusion, he also began to improve and was able to be taken off a ventilator nine days later and is currently still recovering in the hospital and being prepared to be discharged soon.

“I truly feel like I was given a gift to help others. I wanted to share my story to give others hope and also encourage those who have recovered to donate plasma. I always try to find the positive in everything and this is my silver lining throughout my COVID-19 journey. I believe everything happens for a reason and maybe I got COVID-19 so I could help save others,” Marisa said. “I can donate every 28 days and I plan to do so until they tell me I can’t anymore.”

Marisa is a true example of being by the side of others for a healthier world and we are proud of her for living our values outside of the walls of West in the community.

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