RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - “I'm lucky number 4.”
That's how Reno resident Lisa Sharpe describes herself these days. It means the fourth patient to ever be diagnosed with COVID-19 here in Washoe County.
She says she travels a lot and knew in early March COVID-19 would soon restrict that travel. She arrived home on March 8th after a flight from San Diego and knew something was wrong.
“I had a massage the day before,” says Lisa. And I thought I am achy because of that. And then my brain started getting fuzzy. And then in the next 12 hours I thought, this isn't right.”
She says she and her son went to Saint Mary's Regional Medical Center where her answers checked all the boxes.
“Have you been on a flight anytime in the last week? Yes. Do you have a cough? Yes. Have you had a low- grade fever? Yes,” she says of the questions posed by the nurse.
She was told to wait outside in the parking lot.
“Somebody came out, full gear full Hazmat on. Hazmat suit whatever it was,” says Lisa.
She says they did test for everything except COVID-19 because of the limited number of kits available at the time.
But she was eventually given that test after negative results to all others. Two days later, she got a phone call. Her mind started to race.
“I was more worried about my son,” she says. “My dad, he was in the house. And I kept replaying when was the last time I was with him? ‘Did I see him after I got off the plane?’ And then my youngest who had gone to school one of the days. I thought, ‘Did I see him before he went to school?’”
Lisa spent three weeks in her room. Food was left at the door, and she could hear her family on the other side of the wall carrying on with their lives. She says she slept a lot, and was in constant contact with the health district.
“They said to me as soon as your breath gets too short, or you can't complete a sentence come in. But they said you are talking to us just fine. So, you are ok,” Lisa says.
Her family considers her tough, and so she acted that way, even if she thought her situation would worsen.
“It is sort of mind over matter, you have to sit there and go, you are going to be fine,” she says of those conversations with herself. “Had I called 911 and they came and got me, I probably would not have interacted with anyone here. No hugs, no goodbyes. That to me is just heartbreaking.”
After three weeks she was able to leave her room. She says she learned a lot about herself. But her thoughts turned to “How can I help others who aren't fairing as well as I am?"
“I feel like I went through this. And if I can keep someone else from going through all this and experiencing it worse? Amen. I'll do it all day long,” says Lisa.
She is philosophical about her recent journey. “Just having everything that comes from this, just part of the plan and path right? That's how I feel,” she says.
That path led Lisa to Vitalant, the local blood bank here in Reno. These days it is the site for former COVID patients like Lisa to donate their plasma.
Contacted by researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, she is part of a program that hopes to take antibodies from her plasma and help patients who aren't fairing as well as she is with the virus.
“Because it is going right to people to save their life,” says Lisa. “I mean why wouldn't you right? Yea I feel there is this moral obligation to help people. And if you can you should.”
Within an hour she will fill four units of plasma. That’s the liquid part of the blood that carries cells and proteins throughout the body. In her case, her plasma carries the antibodies to the coronavirus. Once processed, her plasma will go to local hospitals and be used on patients fighting the disease.
Researchers at the medical school will take a small sample of her plasma as well, to take an even deeper look at the antibodies to see their makeup and how they are able to attack the virus.
"There are people dying all over the country. And if I can have an impact on that? It would be crazy not to-- for an hour of my time? Right?” says Lisa.
There is an all-out call to local residents who have tested positive to the coronavirus to take the same measures that Lisa has. Although they may not have to make the same commitment she has.
Lisa says if she chooses to, she can come back every seven days to make a plasma donation.
For information, contact Alanna Jacobs at Renown Health at 775-982-3646.
Copyright KOLO-TV 2020