COVID-19 survivor, one of metro’s first to receive plasma treatment, reunites with health care workers

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — An Independence man who spent months in the hospital fighting COVID-19 was reunited with health care professionals who took care of him.

The last thing Shakell Avery remembers on April 6 was being dropped off at the entrance to Menorah Medical Center. He was suffering from symptoms related to the coronavirus.

“The first thing that went through my mind was I thought I wasn’t going to make it and immediately thought of my son, my woman, mom, my support system,” Avery recalled.

The 23-year-old spent weeks on a ventilator. All the while, his family and doctors at Menorah and Research Medical Center worked to find a COVID-19 survivor willing to donate plasma.

“So we can take antibodies that they’ve produced and take those antibodies and give them someone who’s sick or dying from COVID-19,” said Dr. Marjorie Wongs, an infectious disease physician at HCA Midwest hospitals.

Wongs said the process of finding a donor was grueling. There were none locally.

They ultimate found a coronavirus survivor from New York City and, on April 20, conducted one of the region’s first convalescent plasma transfusions.

“We definitely feel that plasma played a role in his recovery,” Wongs said.

Jessica Knox, a registered nurse at Menorah Medical, was Avery’s night nurse.

“At night when they don’t have their family, you become their family. You are the person that listens to them. You are the person that’s staring in their eyes,” Knox said tearfully. “I will never forget the first day he opened his eyes after we turned down his sedation because I called his uncle and was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s awake, like we’ve turned a major corner.’”

On Tuesday evening, Avery and his family thanked the caregivers who helped nurse him back to good health.

“I couldn’t say thank you enough,” Avery said to the line of health professionals who greeted him with signs and cheers. “Y’all brought me back to my family. I look at your guys as a family. Truly.”

“To have strangers fill that gap for you, it’s just a blessing,” his mom, Willetta Avery, added. “The entire staff here were nothing but a blessing to us.”

Avery encouraged people to take the virus seriously, admitting that he didn’t initially.

“For everybody that’s out here taking a chance, I’m here to tell you it’s not a joke. It’s not a game and definitely not something you want to go through,” he said. “The people not wanting to wear masks and things like that, that’s fine but think about the others you may hurt.”

Avery still has a long road ahead until he’s fully able to walk on his own.

He turns 24 this Saturday. His response when asked what he planned to do to celebrate: “staying home.”

Doctors said they need more COVID-19 survivors to donate plasma. If you’re interested, contact the Community Blood Center. You must be a person who has fully recovered from the virus.

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