COVID-19 Patient was First at Mercy Jefferson to Receive Plasma

May 7, 2020

Elaine Simmons credits prayers and plasma for her recovery from a significant battle with novel coronavirus COVID-19. She was admitted to Mercy Hospital Jefferson on Easter Sunday and went home on her 47th wedding anniversary, May 4.

Elaine was the first patient at Mercy Jefferson to be treated with convalescent plasma, but she wasn’t the first person in her family to be diagnosed with COVID-19. Her husband Ron Simmons developed symptoms in early April, and her son Josh also spent several days in the hospital as a positive coronavirus patient.

Elaine Simmons acknowledges Mercy Jefferson co-workers who assembled to wish her well when she was discharged from the hospital on May 4, her 47th wedding anniversary. Elaine Simmons acknowledges Mercy Jefferson co-workers who assembled to wish her well when she was discharged from the hospital on May 4, her 47th wedding anniversary.

“Ronnie was tired and not feeling like himself but by the time we found out that he tested positive, he was already looking and feeling better,” Elaine said.

Dr. Joanne Waltman had referred Ronnie to Mercy Urgent Care – Festus where he was tested for flu and strep, but those results came back negative, so Dr. Waltman sent him to the drive-through testing center at Hillsboro and his case of COVID-19 was confirmed. One week later, Elaine was not feeling well and told Ron she wanted to go to the emergency room.

“It was Easter. I start feeling bad, and I’m not one to want to go, but I said, ‘I think I need to go to the hospital’,” Elaine said. “I had cough and shortness of breath.”

Before they left home, they called the emergency department to tell them they were on the way and would arrive in about 20 minutes.

“They pretty much met us at the door and told him, ‘We got her from here.’ They asked if I could walk, and I said no, so they put me in a wheelchair. The next thing I really remember is them waking me up. I was on a ventilator for seven days.”

During her stay at Mercy Jefferson she saw many specialists in the Intensive Care Unit, and in the designated COVID-19 Unit on the Progressive Care Unit. Among her physicians were Chief Medical Officer Dr. Karthik Iyer, and Mercy Clinic Pulmonologist Dr. Vikram Oke.

Simmons also mentioned the care she received from infectious disease specialist Dr. Chandra Dommaraju, and pulmonologist Dr. Robert Tilley, who guided efforts to receive the plasma for Simmons to be the first patient at Mercy Jefferson to receive convalescent plasma as a treatment.

“Convalescent plasma is a term for the donated plasma from a prior COVID-19 patient who has developed antibodies,” Dr. Oke explained. “This is an experimental treatment, and the trial is ongoing currently to determine if convalescent plasma can help with recovery of patients with most severe manifestations of the disease.” 

Mercy Jefferson works closely with leading researchers in providing the best and most up-to-date treatments for all patients.

“Of the many treatments we have been utilizing to win the battle of COVID-19 for patients, the clinical outcomes of convalescent plasma administration appear to be promising as research continues,” Dr. Iyer said. “The FDA has facilitated physician access to investigational COVID-19 convalescent plasma for use in adult patients with serious or immediately life-threatening infections through the National Expanded Access Program led by the Mayo Clinic. The Mercy Research Team works closely with Mayo investigating the use of convalescent plasma.”

Elaine Simmons’ successful treatment and other stories like hers across the country provide hope for patients, care givers and the community.

“Mrs. Simmons was critically ill and spent time on the ventilator. However, after plasma administration, she gradually recovered and was able to come off the ventilator,” Dr. Iyer said. “Her recovery paves the way for more success stories and gives the health care team another potential option in the fight to defeat the novel coronavirus.”

Elaine Simmons said the treatment she received was news to her.

“I have no idea. All I know is my husband said he gave them permission to try anything they could,” Elaine said. “He said even it if it fails, but it helps someone else get better in the future, then do it.”

Elaine Simmons waves to Mercy Jefferson staff who cheered for her on her way home after a Code Sunshine was called. Elaine Simmons waves to Mercy Jefferson staff who cheered for her on her way home after a Code Sunshine was called.

Elaine Simmons said she did have some memories of her stay in the hospital, and she said some of her nurses and therapists may have thought she was hallucinating.

“I was hearing voices of people praying for me. I remember families from my childhood saying, ‘it’s not your time. God’s not done with you.’ They kept telling me, you are going to get better,” Elaine said. “I had so many people praying for me.”

That outpouring of support continued after she returned to her home in De Soto, but she is still anxious for the opportunity to wrap her arms around her children and grandchildren.

“I got to see them last night in the yard, but no hugging. I’m a hugger,” Elaine said. “I was sitting on the front porch, and my friends organized a parade with police cars, fire trucks and my friends from church.”

During the 22 days Elaine Simmons was in the hospital, her son Josh also was diagnosed with COVID-19 and spent several days at Mercy Jefferson.   

“Ronnie and Josh are doing well,” Elaine said. “I want to thank all the nurses and doctors, hospital staff, physical therapists, occupational therapists and everyone. Without all the prayers and the knowledge God has given the doctors and nurses, I don’t know how we could have made it.”

She was sad to have missed her oldest granddaughter’s 25th birthday on April 19, but she said she was glad for the gift she received 47 years to the date after her May 4, 1973, wedding. 

A Code Sunshine was called at Mercy Jefferson and co-workers lined the hallways as Elaine Simmons was wheeled from her room to the front door where Ronnie got to see his bride of 47 years for the first time in more than three weeks.