It seems like every day we hear more discouraging news about the rapid and deadly spread of COVID-19. As the death toll passes 100,000, it’s hard to be hopeful. However that just means you haven’t met 79 year-old Sheila Julich. Sheila is an on-call nurse at Kirkland, Washington’s Life Care Center, where the first confirmed cases of COVID were recorded and where 37 lives were lost, many of them Sheila’s friends and long-time residents. But as more and more of us become familiar with what convalescent plasma is – more of us come to realize that maybe Sheila Julich represents a sliver of hope.
Listen below or read on for a full transcript.
As an on-call nurse at Washington’s Life Care Center, where the first confirmed cases of COVID were recorded and where 37 lives were lost, Sheila knows just how important convalescent plasma may be. Listen to our latest #Bloodworks101 episode: https://t.co/893wgq9AbU. 🎧 pic.twitter.com/iHMt4MIuRx— Bloodworks Northwest 🩸 (@BloodworksNW) June 7, 2020
Sheila: Told my grandkids that my superpower is I can recline in a chair and save lives.
John: Hi. I am John Yeager, and this is Bloodworks 101. It’s been hard to find a ray of hope in the dark clouds of the daily news about COVID-19. If you’re like me, every day you check the numbers. How many new cases today? How many new deaths? Here at Bloodworks, we’re also asking how will this continue to impact our blood supply?
But then someone like Sheila Julich walks through your door. Sheila is 79. She’s an on call nurse at Kirkland’s Life Care Center where the coronavirus struck first and struck hardest. 37 lives lost. “Seattle Times” reports that there have been at least 167 COVID-19 cases linked to the Life Care Center. But for Sheila Julich those numbers are people, and for Sheila this is personal. She’s lost friends and longtime patients. She’s worked there for more than 40 years.
Sheila: I started working there in 1976. And that was what was bad being at home the back and I wanna cry. I couldn’t be there to say goodbye to those that I took care of. That’s the hard part. I have talked to some family members since then that lost people. They were a family. And I love my job, and I liked making them happy and comfortable at the end of their lives. No one thinks they’ll end up in a nursing home, but we did everything to, you know, entertainment, happy, celebrate birthdays, special occasions with them. So I know one that passed away, her birthday was like a day after mine, we always kinda celebrated together. So, it’s my second family down there.
My daughter started volunteering there when she was 14. And then she ended up working there. She got her masters in social work, and she worked in Social Services and Admissions. My grandson worked there between his freshman and sophomore year of college in the kitchen, so there were three generations. I wouldn’t still work there if I didn’t feel it was great. My mother was there, she passed away there. My mother-in-law was a resident there, she passed away. My aunt, my uncle, my brother-in-law’s father was there. I’ve had neighbors there. I’ve had classmate of mine there.
John: Sheila contracted COVID-19 herself. She told me recently that the virus had her down for almost three weeks. Much of that time, she felt like something heavy was sitting on her chest. But she recovered, and then found out about the pilot study for collection of Anti-SARS-CoV-2 immune plasma sponsored by the NIAID that stands for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases headed up by Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Bloodworks Northwest is partnering with a research study of people who have been recovered from COVID-19 for at least 28 days. A blood donation provides researchers with critical information used to advance the development of potentially life-saving therapies and treatments for those affected by COVID-19. Participation in this program is not treatment for the disease and it will not result in any direct health benefit.
Bloodworks Northwest and the University of Washington are cooperating to find and qualify convalescent plasma donors for the pilot study involving volunteers who had COVID-19 and recovered. Again, the hope is that it could help others now fighting the virus. I spoke to Sheila recently when she was at Bloodworks Northwest Central Donation Center in Seattle donating plasma. The clicking sound you hear is the apheresis machine used for plasma donations.
Sheila: I felt luckily and blessed that I made it through, and I wanted to be able to help somebody else recover from it if possible.
John: I asked Sheila if that’s a good way to sum up what she hoped to achieve.
Sheila: Right, to save a life hopefully. I felt badly, because I was one of the first that got it. And I thought of all my co-workers there, and that I couldn’t be there helping them. And I thought, well, I can do this and help somebody else.
John: How did you hear about the program?
Sheila: Well, our doctor at work in his PAC told me about it, and I got emailed with Anne Vold, the doctor at the University of Washington. And then I got the email saying that I was positive and if I could donate.
John: How does she feel about the procedure?
Sheila: It’s brief and no problems at all. Yeah, it’s wonderful.
John: I asked Sheila if it felt good to know that what she’s going through helped people she may never know.
Sheila: That’s right. So I keep thinking out there maybe that one got my plasma. Yeah, because, I think I told you, I told my grandkids that my superpower is I can recline in a chair and save lives.
John: What does she want people to feel now? She admits this is a real ray of hope.
Sheila: Yes, one of them, yes, there’s a lot of them. Well, that you can be sick and you can recover. I feel badly for those that really end up, you know, in ER in the hospital. But it’ll be like any other virus. Some people will be asymptomatic, other people be worse than others. Like, polio, I think there were three strains, and some people were asymptomatic and did…but still would able to pass it to somebody. And COVID-19 will probably be the same. And I just want people to know how easy this is to be able to save a life.
John: I asked Julich if she’d been reaching out to her co-workers at the Life Care Center.
Sheila: Oh, yeah. Well, one of my co-workers was just here. She just finished giving her plasma, and left already. Yeah, and they’ve been telling the word at Life Care, and he said, you know, if there’s fliers or anything I could bring to there to let them know. Because some of them maybe they were just asymptomatic and they don’t know, and it could be tested to see if they have the antibodies.
John: What’s her reaction when she thinks about all the lives that she could potentially save?
Sheila: Oh. It makes you happy, because you wonder what they’ll go on to do, you know, in the world. And the thing that something could be snuffed out, that potential.
John: Finally, I asked Sheila Julich, if you thought that in some strange way the pandemic is bringing us closer together to help each other.
Sheila: Oh, definitely. Yes.
John: As you may have heard the Mayo Clinic recently came out with results from a study that says experimental convalescent plasma is safe when treating severely ill patients. It’s not a clinical trial, but it’s given scientists reason to be optimistic. There’s a word I’d like to hear more. With volunteers like Sheila Julich, perhaps, and the jury is still out on this one, perhaps we can find an answer to whether or not this pathway can contribute to treatment of this disease.
If you’d like to be part of this pilot study, go to bloodworksnw.org/covid19study. Set up a screening interview to qualify you as a donor, schedule an appointment, and then donate. That’s just about it for this episode of Bloodworks 101. I’m John Yeager. Stay safe. See you next time.