• COVID-19
    COVID-19
    Read the story of ASCP Patient Champions Cathrine, Linda and Tiffany and learn about the role
    of laboratory testing in the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19.

WHAT IS COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). The coronavirus family is large and are common in both people and animals. There are only a small number of coronaviruses that can infect people and spread between people. SARS-CoV-2, the agent of COVID-19, emerged in the fall of 2019 and has caused a global pandemic.

SARS-CoV-2 causes a respiratory infection with mild to severe symptoms, including, but not limited to: difficulty breathing, fever, headache, cough, pneumonia, bronchitis. In severe cases, COVID-19 can lead to death.

COVID-19 is diagnosed with a nasal pharyngeal swab, which is a method to collect material for testing from the nasal secretions from the back of the nose and throat. In simple terms, it is a big and long swab inserted through your nose and it will feel like it is tickling your brain. The swab is then brought to the laboratory in special transport fluid where laboratory professionals and pathologists extract the sample from the swab and it is analyzed to see if SARS-CoV-2 is present.

There is currently no cure for COVID-19, though convalescent plasma (plasma from survivors who have created antibodies to SARS-CoV-2) is being used to treat severe cases. Additionally, research to create vaccines is underway.

COVID-19

Patients who succumb to COVID-19 may have acute lung injury which is indicated by the presence of pink, bland membranes (called, "hyaline membranes") that line the walls of their air sacs in their lungs (where oxygen exchange occurs). At autopsy, tissue sections of the lungs can show the pink hyaline membranes as seen in this patient. If patients survive the initial stages, they may progress to a more severe form of lung injury called diffuse alveolar damage. Alternatively, a secondary pneumonia may develop in the injured lung due to bacteria which can lead to death.

covid-pom-pic“Do I feel that the lab saved my life? No question.”

Pom's Story

“They removed the ventilator from his throat and they told me to be prepared possibly for the worst and we wept”, says Lynnette about her husband Pom’s journey with COVID-19. Luckily, after being on a ventilator for over three weeks, Pom was able to breathe on his own again. It would take more than 40 days until Pom was able to go home, but that day is marked in everyone’s heart and mind.

Pom first started experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 at the end of March. He was feeling fatigued, had a slight cough, and developed a fever. When his test came back positive, he never imagined that he would get as sick as he did. He ended up in the emergency room, where he was immediately sedated and put on a ventilator to help him breathe.

Because Pom was sedated for most of his COVID journey, his daily laboratory tests spoke for him. He had many complications of COVID-19, including three bouts of bacterial pneumonia, a deep vein thrombosis in his leg, acute kidney injury, and bleeding in his lungs and abdomen. Laboratory test results indicated how his treatments were progressing and when he was no longer suffering from the coronavirus. Without those tests, doctors could not have been able to adjust his treatments to help him recover.

Right now, Pom is still recovering at home, though he is doing remarkably well. He is walking and talking again and cracking his famous jokes. All in all, Pom spent 40 days in the hospital, of which 38 days were in ICU, and 25 days on a ventilator.

 

ASCP Patient Champion COVID-19 Cathrine

"Losing loved ones while having to recover was very challenging. I feel in my gut that I need to help others by sharing my story, because I felt so helpless at home."

Cathrine's Story

As an oncology nurse, Cathrine knows the devastating impact infections can have on your body. As one of the primary caretakers of her parents, she also understands the intricacies of caring for people with chronic diseases, as her mother and father had a history of diabetes and high blood pressure. However, she was unprepared to deal with what the coronavirus pandemic would bring to her world and devastate it.

Cathrine started feeling tired and achy in early March, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. During the next few days, she started to get a low-grade fever, feeling out of breath and fatigued. At the time, the hospital she worked at did not have their own tests yet, so her swab had to be sent to the Department of Health. Unfortunately, her swab was lost in the process, but she continued to self-quarantine away from her family and patients.

During the same time, her parents started to feel ill as well. Due to underlying health risk factors, both parents having diabetes and her father having history of prostate cancer, their decline was rapid. Both were diagnosed with COVID-19; unfortunately, they were at different hospitals and within hours of each other had to be intubated to help provide them with the oxygen they needed, so that they did not have to work hard to breathe. On March 26th, she received the phone call that all her dad's organs were failing and only had a couple of hours left. They were able to facetime him with their priest and he was read his last rights. That evening he passed away.

In the meantime, Cathrine continued to feel worse as well. She got another COVID test, but the result was negative. She continued staying at home, while her boyfriend, Prince, took time off work to take care of her. She was barely able to do anything herself, that is how weak and out of breath she was. When her fever rose to almost 106, Prince took her back to the ER, where she was tested again for COVID and this time it came back positive. She continued to recuperate at home. Her mom was still at the hospital, continuing to need more oxygen like her dad had. She fought hard and on April 10th, she passed away as well.

Cathrine has finally started feeling physically better and on the last day of her now low-grade fever, she received a call from the Department of Health that they scheduled her for her COVID test the following morning. She decided to get the COVID swab test done because she wanted to know if it had gone, which it had as the result was negative.

Now, Cathrine feels good, though still a little weak. She returned to work a few weeks ago after getting another test to make sure she was COVID-free. She is slowly able to walk more and longer without having to catch her breath. She has a high level of antibodies in her blood, so she is scheduled to donate convalescent plasma soon. Cathrine would like to make sure everyone knows to take this disease and the respective precautions seriously.

ASCP Patient Champion COVID-19 Linda

"This virus is no joke. I am a reasonably healthy person, and I have never been that sick in my life. I would not have been diagnosed as having this dangerous virus, SARS-CoV-2, without proper testing. Getting this test quickly allowed me and my clinic to look out for the safety of anyone I might have exposed before and helped prevent me from exposing more people after."

Linda's Story

Linda knew exactly when she was exposed to SARS-CoV-2. It was Monday, March 16, during her regular office hours at the clinic. Linda is a family practice physician, so even though coronavirus cases were increasing rapidly in Chicago, she wanted to provide care and support to her patients.

On Tuesday, Linda felt a little off, tired and warm, but she had no fever. That Friday evening, four days after exposure, she started coughing and feeling chills. That's when she suspected she might have contracted COVID-19. Her symptoms increased overnight significantly with high fevers, and on Saturday she went to the Northwestern Emergency Room to get tested. Within 24 hours of getting a nasal swab for the coronavirus test the results confirmed what she already knew: She had COVID-19.

Linda continued to stay home and quarantine herself, feeling increasingly worse until she could barely breathe walking from room to room. She decided to pack a bag with her essentials and head to the hospital. She was diagnosed with pneumonia, a complication of the coronavirus and checked in immediately. It took 4 days in the hospital where she was given oxygen and antibiotics to treat her pneumonia, before Linda started feeling better and was discharged to recuperate at home.

Fully recovered 6 weeks later, Linda donated convalescent plasma, which contains antibodies that can help people recover from COVID-19. She has returned to work in the clinic to continue to care for her patients.

 

ASCP Patient Champion COVID-19 Tiffany

"I am thankful that my case of COVID-19 is one of the milder cases. However, it is very important to be observant regarding new changes in your body. Your observation and intuition could help save you and your loved one lives. "

Tiffany's Story

Tiffany was excited to start a new job as the Assistant Administrative Laboratory Director at a small community hospital in New York. However, a couple of weeks before she began, she started feeling sick. Her symptoms were similar to allergies, which she suffers from, so initially she thought that was causing her symptoms. Her main symptoms where watery, stuffy nose and sneezing. She consulted with her allergist and she changed her allergy medication immediately. Shortly after starting the new medication, she noticed her lose of smell and taste. Due to her recent change in medication, she figured that was a side effect. She then followed up with her allergist and was told her new medication did not have such side effects. At the same time, new literature was released that a lose of smell and taste is a sign of COVID. Because she works in healthcare and her intuition was vigilant regarding COVID and their employees, Tiffany had early access to a test through her institution. She filled out a survey and based on her answers, a nurse scheduled a test with her the next day.

A respiratory swab was used to collect sample, and then placed into viral transport media to maintain the integrity and sustainability of the sample. Testing was completed via reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) in the Microbiology laboratory. This process is used to amplify the virus. This process confirms if the virus is truly present by amplifying the genetic code of the virus; true positives are assured.

She received her results 24 hours later and tested positive for COVID-19. Tiffany continued to self-quarantine at home. Since she had only mild symptoms, she started to feel better after two weeks of rest.