COVID-19 patient back home after receiving plasma, ventilator alternative at Froedtert

Last updated on April 29th, 2020 at 10:23 am

Billy Schulz with his fiance Megan, son Damien and daughter Riley, at Froedtert Hospital.

A 27-year-old man has returned home after being treated for COVID-19 with convalescent plasma and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation at Froedtert Hospital.

Billy Schulz, a Jackson resident and father of two, went to the emergency room at Froedtert West Bend Hospital on April 13 after a week of nausea and a fever.

Schulz didn’t have pre-existing conditions, and suspects he contracted the virus while traveling for work, according to Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Within a few hours of arriving at the emergency room, his condition worsened dramatically, and he had to be intubated to help him breathe. 

After a few days on a ventilator with no improvement in his condition, Schulz was transferred to Froedtert Hospital where he was taken off the ventilator, given convalescent plasma and placed on ECMO, a life support technology that pumps and oxygenates blood outside the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest. 

The convalescent plasma treatment involves extracting antibodies from plasma of blood donated from recovered COVID-19 patients and infusing them into patients currently battling COVID-19 to help their immune systems fight the virus. It is approved by the FDA as an emergency investigational new drug. 

Several area health systems have administered convalescent plasma treatment in recent weeks, but few have reported results at this point. Milwaukee-based Versiti, Inc. is collecting plasma donations from recovered COVID-19 patients to send to its hospital partners. The treatment method has previously been used to treat other viruses, including Ebola and H1N1.

Five days after receiving plasma and being placed on ECMO, Schulz’s condition had improved enough to be taken off the device, Froedtert & MCW said. 

“I’m lost for words, but I’m very thankful,” said Schulz, who recently returned home after two weeks in the hospital. “Without them, I would for sure be dead right now.” 

Schulz’s results will be added to a comprehensive registry that includes the treatment and outcomes of patients requiring various care and protocols, including ECMO, for COVID-19.

Froedtert & MCW health network is participating in an international, multi-center observational study of novel coronavirus patients in intensive care units that is producing the registry. 

“ECMO is proving to be a promising solution when ventilators are not helping COVID-19 patients improve, and we are actually seeing better outcomes for these individuals within 12-24 hours of being placed on ECMO,” said Lucian Durham III, associate professor at MCW and cardiothoracic surgeon at Froedtert & MCW. “Billy’s successful outcome truly speaks to the skill and experience of our ECMO team, and to the tremendous collaboration with our community hospitals that enable patients around the region to receive world-class care.”

As of April 20, four COVID-19 patients at Froedtert Hospital were on ECMO.

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.