He’s the bearer of good news — and tons of COVID-19 antibodies.
After battling the coronavirus at the start of the pandemic, New Jersey resident Matthew Facendo is now what medical professionals call a “superdonor” — somebody with an unusually high amount of COVID-19 antibodies. And they’re studying him in order to help others fight the disease.
On March 10, over a week before New Jersey went on lockdown, Hazlet resident Facendo came down with a fever. The mailman’s high temperature returned the next night and he had a nagging feeling that he may have caught the frightening new virus. Facendo called out of work the next day and went to the hospital, where he underwent a battery of tests, including one for COVID-19.
“I had a bad feeling,” Facendo, 60, told The Post. “Because I had triple bypass with aortic valve replacement in September 2018.”
For the next 11 days, he grappled with fevers that ran from 99 to 103 degrees, lost his appetite and sense of taste and smell, and was extremely fatigued. Luckily, he never had respiratory issues and he monitored his blood pressure and kept tabs on his oxygen levels with an oximeter. He believes he infected his wife and his 29-year-old son, both of whom had mild cases.
“The symptoms kept coming and going, and I didn’t get the positive test results until the 23rd of March. And by that time, my fever broke. Doctors told me to stay home for another 14 days.”
He returned to work in early April, but his COVID story was just getting interesting.
Eager to give back in the daunting early days of the pandemic, Facendo signed up to donate convalescent plasma at the Hackensack University Medical Center, which would be used to treat COVID-19 patients.
“I just wanted to do something to help. People felt helpless at that point in time,” said Facendo.
He was in for a shock. Not only did he have antibodies, he was filthy rich with them.
“After testing, I was given amazing news. I was a superdonor. My antibodies were so high I was a rare Level 4 donor. My antibody titers were over 10,000. They said it wasn’t super common and asked me about getting involved in a long-term antibody study.”
David Perlin, the chief scientific officer at the Center For Discovery and Innovation at Hackensack Meridian Health, who is overseeing the study, said only about 20% of donors had sky-high numbers like Facendo’s.
“We had profiled just under 1,000 potential donors who had been ill [with COVID-19]. Many showed antibody titers of one to 100 or one to 500. That was the standard range and would represent about 75 to 80% of the population. [Someone like Facendo] would have shown at least 10 times the antibody response,” said Perlin, adding they were specifically looking for neutralizing antibodies that either kill the virus or prevent the virus from infecting additional cells.
Once they identified the superdonors who had such a high concentration of neutralizing antibodies, they launched a study to analyze the subjects’ immunology and understand how long the individuals maintained those higher levels.
Time hasn’t dampened Facendo’s robust numbers. He was last tested on July 18.
“My numbers are still through the roof. I have been waiting for it to go down, but it hasn’t,” he said.
This comes as uncertainty over the effectiveness and staying power of antibodies deepens. A recent study out of King’s College London shows that COVID-19 immunity could evaporate within months.
Still, Perlin said that superdonors like Facendo are “terribly exciting. We are trying to understand if these individuals are better protected, if there is something about their genetics that allows them to make more antibodies or if there is something special about the ones they are making. There are so many open scientific questions.”
Facendo, who is due to participate through December, said he feels “better than he has in a long time.” He is curious about his COVID unicorn status — and what it means for the disease and him personally. But he wants to be a point of positivity amidst the flurry of alarming coronavirus-centric news headlines.
“I feel like there are some good things happening about what they are finding out medically. You hear all of the bad stories about COVID,” Facendo said. “But there is some light at the end of the tunnel. We do have hope.”
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