By: Benyamin Davidsons
New Jersey resident Matthew Facendo got sick with Coronavirus at the beginning of the pandemic’s outbreak. After battling the virus, he is now what medical professionals call a “superdonor”, or somebody with a remarkably high count of COVID-19 antibodies. Now, he has not only donated plenty of plasma, he is also being studying, in order to help others fight the disease.
As reported by the NY Post, Facendo, 60, a mailman, started to feel sick on March 10, more than a week before the lockdown went into effect in NJ. He had a fever two nights in a row, giving him the eerie feeling that something was wrong. He was worried that he may have caught the scary new virus, so he called out of work the next day and went to the hospital. “I had a bad feeling,” Facendo said. “Because I had triple bypass with aortic valve replacement in September 2018.” He underwent a slew of tests at the hospital, including one for COVID-19.
For 11 more days, he struggled with fevers which ranged from 99 to 103 degrees. He experienced symptoms including lost appetite, and loss of his sense of taste and smell, as well as extreme fatigue. He cautiously monitored his blood pressure and his oxygen level. Fortunately, he never developed respiratory issues. He believes he infected his wife and his 29-year-old son, both of whom only had mild cases. “The symptoms kept coming and going, and I didn’t get the positive test results until the 23rd of March. And by that time, my fever broke. Doctors told me to stay home for another 14 days.”
He finally got back to work in early April, but his COVID-19 story was far from over. Facendo signed up to donate convalescent plasma at the Hackensack University Medical Center, hoping he can help other patients to recover from COVID-19. “I just wanted to do something to help. People felt helpless at that point in time,” said Facendo. He was surprised to find out that he had an abundant supply to spare. “After testing, I was given amazing news. I was a superdonor. My antibodies were so high I was a rare Level 4 donor. My antibody titers were over 10,000. They said it wasn’t super common and asked me about getting involved in a long-term antibody study.”
It turns out only about 20 percent of donors had exorbitant antibodies like Facendo, as per David Perlin, the chief scientific officer at the Center For Discovery and Innovation at Hackensack Meridian Health. “We had profiled just under 1,000 potential donors who had been ill [with COVID-19]. Many showed antibody titers of one to 100 or one to 500. That was the standard range and would represent about 75 to 80% of the population. [Someone like Facendo] would have shown at least 10 times the antibody response,” said Perlin. Dr. Perlin is overseeing the study, which specifically seeks out neutralizing antibodies that either kill the virus, or prevent it from spreading to more cells.
Some studies, particularly one recent study by King’s College London, show that COVID-19 immunity could fade away within months. Facendo’s robust numbers, however, were still very much in tact when he was last tested on July 18. Facendo is slated to continue participating in the study through December. “We are trying to understand if these individuals are better protected, if there is something about their genetics that allows them to make more antibodies or if there is something special about the ones they are making. There are so many open scientific questions,” said Perlin, referring to the study on superdonors like Facendo.