After recovering from COVID-19, MultiCare surgeon donates funds and his own plasma to help others
Prakash Gatta, MBBS, FACS, is an esophageal surgeon at MultiCare. He contracted and recovered from coronavirus (COVID-19) in March.
Now, Gatta is using his own experience (and his blood) to give back to others affected by the disease.
“Before being tested, I just remember thinking, ‘I can’t possibly have the coronavirus. The numbers are still so low, and I’m already starting to feel better,’” Gatta explains. “I was shocked when I finally got the call. At its worst, it felt like a very unusual flu — one like I’d never had before. And even today, I’m still feeling weak and sleeping isn’t always easy. The effects are still lingering.”
While he was battling COVID-19, he “holed up in his basement” and quarantined himself from his family. Once he recovered, Gatta did what he does best: he got back to work.
“The first thing that came to mind after coming back was relief,” Gatta explains. “Before I went through it, there was this fear of thinking, ‘Man, I’m scared. But I have to do my job. I still have to go to work to be there for my coworkers. To be there for my patients. Now that I’m on the other side of it, I feel a little less worried than others because there’s a chance I could be immune. It’s a burden that has been removed for me, in a way. At the same time, I know that my colleagues are all feeling the same worry I had just a few short weeks ago. But people are still coming to work and they do it despite the fear that they have, which shows the true courage of the people who are in this field.”
It’s those colleagues, along with his patients, that inspired Gatta to help others as he continues to recover. In late March, he made a personal donation through the MultiCare Foundations to the MultiCare COVID-19 Response Fund. Now, he’s participating in two separate clinical studies to help other patients who are infected.
The first study is a Mayo Clinic-led trial that the MultiCare Institute for Research and Innovation is participating in. To support the trial, MultiCare is collecting convalescent plasma donations from recovered COVID-19 patients through a process called plasmapheresis, in partnership with Cascade Regional Blood Services. Plasma is the liquid part of your blood that everyone has, but convalescent plasma is different in that it can only be found in the blood of a person who has recovered from a disease. That made Gatta the perfect candidate.
In April, he started the preliminary steps for participation in the trial which required getting re-tested to confirm that he’s no longer positive for COVID-19. Gatta was able to donate his plasma in early May, and because he has a very rare blood type, his donation will also be especially helpful in the additional efforts to replenish blood supplies.
The second study Gatta is taking part in, led by the University of Washington, involves widespread antibody testing. The goal of the study is to collect blood samples from people who have previously tested positive so that their antibody levels can be studied further. The samples are then incorporated into broader research efforts to help uncover new treatment options and fight the spread of the virus.
“Until a vaccine comes out, there is no drug for this, so studies like these become very important,” Gatta explains. “The closest thing we have to treatment right now is plasmapheresis. We don’t know why someone in their 30s dies from this but someone in their 90s survives. It’s an alien from Mars that has landed here, and we’re trying our best to understand the enemy. Plasmapheresis is kind of like the one bazooka we can use to help treat sick people, and hopefully, reduce the length of the disease.”
Gatta’s workdays look a little different now, and so does he. He’s lost about 15 pounds since he contracted the virus and had to shave his beard so that his personal protective equipment would fit properly (he jokes that he originally left it as a Freddie Mercury-esque mustache, to the amusement of his wife and colleagues).
He is doing emergency surgeries as needed, preparing for more elective surgeries to resume and seeing patients two days per week – both virtually and in person.
Gatta says he’s been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support he’s received, especially from the community.
“It’s very hard to describe the level of support and empathy that others have shown me, having suffered from the disease myself and then returning to work,” he says. “The degree of thanks and recognition I’ve gotten from people I’ve never met before, saying they are so moved by what we as physicians and health care providers do – it’s all been very humbling and empowering to me. I’m so thankful to be in this position, and to be able to share my story.”
Gatta has just three words of advice to share with the kind, resilient community members who have stood by him as he fought COVID-19: please stay home.
“This virus is not going to give up if we give up social distancing,” Gatta says. “When you hear someone telling you to keep staying at home, that’s science speaking. Right now, the vast majority of our country is still uninfected. That means there is still potential for a lot of suffering and mortality to be had. So as much of an inconvenience as it is, there’s no question this is a sacrifice that we all have to make. Otherwise, we’ll be taking steps backwards and we can’t do that. Too many lives have been lost, including health care providers. We would be dishonoring them if we step back.”
If you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 and would like to help others in your community, consider joining Dr. Gatta by donating convalescent plasma. You can also make a donation to support the MultiCare COVID-19 Response Fund.
About The Author
McKenna Ownby is a communication specialist for MultiCare Foundations. She writes stories that connect readers to the impact of giving. You can contact her at [email protected]. More stories by this author