COVID-19 patient thankful for ‘another chance at life’ after receiving plasma donation

Lona Towsley

MADISON, Wis. – While the search for a COVID-19 cure and vaccine continues, medical professionals at UW-Health are encouraged by the early results of a treatment study.

Lona Towsley lives in the small village of Avoca in Iowa County, where she’s happy to be back at her crafts after weeks in the hospital.

“The hospital was just lying in the bed or sitting in a chair,” Towsley said as she put finishing touches on her latest dream-catcher, happy to watch her creation come to life.

Towsley dreamcatcher

It comes after a life-threatening nightmare from a threat only visible in the destruction it leaves behind. For Towsley, the coronavirus turned from allergy-like symptoms to fever and unshakable chills.

“My poor husband tried covering me up the best he could,” Towsley said. “As it went on, it was like slowly being strangled.”

She tested positive for COVID-19 on April 10 and was transferred to UW Hospital less than a week later.

“Just before they put me on the respirator, I did a FaceTime with my husband, and I thought it’d be the last time I’d see him,” Towsley said. “I didn’t think I was going to make it. It was too hard to fight anymore.”

It was hard too, for the loved ones she couldn’t see face to face.

“I mean, in all the years we’ve been married, we’ve hardly ever been separated for more than a day or two at a time,” said her husband, Lee Towsley, who had to quarantine for 14 days to make sure he didn’t come down with the virus, as well. “Especially as the days went on, I paced around the house and worried and prayed.”

“I just told him I loved him and I missed him and that I’d keep trying to fight,” Lona Towsley said.

In the intensive care unit, she learned strength can also come from places unseen. She had support from her family — however far away — and from people she had never met.

“There’s no cure. There are no medicines that are magic pills,” said Dr. William Hartman, an anesthesiologist at UW-Health. “The one thing we knew we could go after this virus is the antibody.”

Towsley is one of fourteen patients to take part in a UW-Health study using donated plasma from COVID-19 survivors in hopes their antibodies could help those still fighting to fend off the virus.

“We’re not only seeing patients improving and doing better, we’re seeing patients leave the hospital,” Hartman said. “It’s just a thrill when you see someone do so well and recover from what was pretty devastating.”

While Hartman said this wasn’t a scientific study so they can’t quantify how much the plasma treatment is helping, he’s encouraged by the results so far. As of Thursday, he said eight of the 14 patients had been discharged from the hospital with the hopes that number would rise to 13 within a week.

Towsley was able to go home at the end of April, saying she looks forward to seeing her children and grandchildren and that each day she feels stronger than ever.

“Material things are kind of just whatever to me now, and it’s more about family and helping others,” she said. “I was just getting worse and worse until I received plasma. I would absolutely love to meet that person and tell them thank you. Thanks for another chance at life.”

Towsley is planning to donate her plasma as soon as she is well enough to do so. Those who want more information about the project or are interested in donating can call 608-262-8300 or email uwcovid19project@hslc.wisc.edu.

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