Frontline workers celebrate patient Austin Meegan’s recovery from COVID-19 May 25, 2020.

Reno Gazette Journal

Austin Meegan left Renown after a fraught, 43-day battle against coronavirus

Austin Meegan left Renown Regional Medical Center on Monday after winning an extraordinary, weekslong fight against the coronavirus.

The 24-year-old nursing assistant was first hospitalized on April 12, and spent weeks staving off kidney and lung failure before learning he was eligible for an experimental blood transfusion that’s shown promise in treating COVID-19 patients. 

But doctors estimated Meegan had only about a 3 percent chance of tracking down a donor to match his rare blood type. 

That sent family members on a desperate search that brought them all the way to Texas, where they finally found a COVID-19 survivor, Thomas Gibson, willing and able to share the viral antibodies now credited with helping to save Meegan’s life.

Coronavirus in the United States: Texas man donates plasma to seriously ill Reno nursing assistant fighting COVID-19 infection

Meegan’s triumph over very long odds was not lost on his fellow health care workers, who lined the front hall of Renown’s Tahoe tower for an emotional sending-off on Monday morning. 

Dr. Tom Herbert approached his patient to give him a celebratory fist bump before the car drove away.

“That was an emotional thing,” Herbert told the Reno Gazette Journal and other media outlets. “We have walks sometimes here at Renown. They’re not always happy walks but this was the good kind of walk where there was a good outcome with Austin walking to the car on oxygen.

“It was emotional for all of us. It was good for us as a staff. We needed to see this amazing victory. It was good for the town, as his mom had let it out to the news how ill he was.  There are people who donated convalescent plasma that helped Austin and so it’s a win for everybody.”

Herbert said Meegan’s recovery was “amazing.” His mother, Kristen Valler, called it “miraculous” in a brief interview with the RGJ. 

Taralynn Bassham, manager of nursing in the cardiac ICU, agreed, adding that Meegan’s recovery “brought so much hope for the team.”

“They’ve been working so hard in the COVID unit and we’ve seen some very sad patients and we really needed this win,” Bassham said. “… He was very happy when he was able to eat and he actually did that quite fast for somebody who had been on the ventilator for so long.”

Meegan was admitted to the Renown on April 12 with shortness of breath and known COVID-19. He went into the intensive care unit and spent the next 29 days on a ventilator, most of the time in a coma. He was able to get off the ventilator May 15 and has been on supplemental oxygen since.

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He was part of a convalescent plasma therapy study run by the Mayo Clinic that swaps blood from former COVID patients with blood from current patients in the hope that antibodies from the donated blood will help them fight the deadly disease.

Researchers, both nationally and locally, are still pleading for donations from recovered COVID-19 patients.

Nationally, the convalescent plasma treatment is being studied by a coalition of independent researchers led by the Mayo Clinic. The group is working with the American Red Cross to find donors across the country.

Herbert noted that convalescent plasma was one of multiple treatments Meegan received at Renown.


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James DeHaven is the politics reporter for the Reno Gazette Journal. He covers campaigns, the Nevada Legislature and everything in between. Support his work by subscribing to right here. 

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