DAYTON — As an essential health care worker, Justin Morgan knew he was at risk of COVID-19 infection.
But at age 38 and in good health, he did not expect his illness to be so severe.
Morgan made his first blood donation in 2003 with Community Blood Center while working at The Berry Company. His most recent donation was on April 3 at the Dayton CBC, a time early in the pandemic when CBC faced multiple blood drive cancellations.
A few days after his donation, CBC became the first blood center in Ohio to collect COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma (CCP) for the treatment of severely ill COVID-19 patients. Three months later, Justin became a CCP recipient — a treatment he and his wife Anita believe saved his life.
Morgan grew up in Riverside, graduated from Fairborn High School, and works as a Clinical Nutrition Dietetic tech for a long-term care facility. He’s also a certified personal trainer and weightlifting instructor.
June 20 was when Morgan first started to feel sick. The first week, he ran a fever, accompanied with severe stomach pain and nausea. He couldn’t eat and could barely drink anything.
”I was getting a gurgling with my lungs filling with fluid. I was laying down on my back and could hear the fluid,” he said. “A lot of things compounded on top of each other. I never had difficulty breathing. I was probably sleeping 16 hours a day, and when I wasn’t asleep, I wished I was asleep, mainly because of the stomach pain. I wished I could throw up. I was forcing myself to drink fluids.”
On June 24, Morgan got tested since he worked in a long-term care facility. Other staff members and patients had been diagnosed there.
The positive test results came that night.
“When I tested positive initially, my physician said it’s mainly affecting older people. I work out six hours a week, I don’t smoke, I don’t have any respiratory issues outside of COVID-19. I expected to be off a couple of weeks until I was well enough to go back to work,” he said.
Morgan said he had not considered going to the hospital.
”But I was in so much pain my wife said ‘you need to go.’ June 30 I was admitted to Miami Valley Hospital. I was complaining about nausea. They gave me a CAT scan and I think I passed out. There were things I agreed to, but I don’t have recollection,” he said.
Morgan was sedated, intubated, and turned to aid his breathing.
“I didn’t interpret myself having trouble breathing. Being young and healthy, I wasn’t interpreting the symptoms, but my oxygen was very low. When I was intubated, on a trach… the ventilator was doing 70 percent of breathing for me. With an older person they would notice immediately,” he said. “I was in a sedated coma. I was intubated and received [convalescent plasma] transfusion. They asked [my wife] and she agreed.”
On July 5, Morgan came off the ventilator and woke up.
“I had no idea how much time had passed,” he said.
On July 8, hospital staff lined up and cheered for Morgan as he left to go home. He had been hospitalized for nine days and was under sedation for four days.
“The doctors said it’s one week of recovery for each day you’re out. The longer in that state, the longer and more difficult the recovery,” he said. “My physician has talked with epidemiologists. Some people who they didn’t think would do well had no severe symptoms at all, and people like me who had more severe symptoms than expected. There are a lot of things about the disease we don’t know yet.”
Morgan said he feels good now — and hopes to return to exercising eventually — but the effects of the virus persist.
”Sometimes I still have trouble walking in a straight line. I have a few mild symptoms. I lost a total of 25 pounds,” he said. “The hardest thing I do every day is take a shower. The hot water makes me very out of breath very quickly.”
Every day, he walks to gain strength so he can return to work, hopefully next week.
A little bit of normalcy is returning for the whole family. The Morgans have three children — a son and two daughters, ages 16, 15, and 13. They just passed 14 days since their last exposure to him while sick, and got to go back to marching band practice for the first time.
Morgan said his wife did have COVID-19 symptoms — loss of taste, fatigue, mild temperature, and heart palpitations — but did not consider them severe enough to get tested.
He’s thankful for her.
“She went through everything for me, all the emotion,” he said.
And he’s thankful for the CCP treatment he believe saved his life.
“I’m thankful,” he said. “I feel good that I can be on both ends, giving and receiving blood.”