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COVID-19 survivor Brian Friedman, photographer

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Brian Friedman
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

Throughout his illness, Henderson-based photographer Brian Friedman was quiet about having COVID-19. His symptoms were mild—fatigue, headaches, loss of taste and smell—and he didn’t want his friends to freak out. He was also worried that people might treat him differently.

Since he was keeping things quiet around his regular social circle, Friedman found support through a Facebook group for folks who’ve tested positive for the coronavirus. That’s where he got the idea to donate plasma.

“I’ve never done that before. I’ve never donated blood.” Friedman says. But this time was different. “All the medical professionals in my life told me that I would literally be saving people’s lives. And that I should do it if I can. So I went and did it.”

After donating, Friedman shared his status on social media, so that he might inspire others to donate. He was floored by the response.

There’s no known cure for COVID-19, but one potential treatment is a transfusion of convalescent plasma from people who have fully recovered from the virus. Plasma is the part of blood that contains antibodies, and for more than 100 years, plasma transfusions have been used to treat a variety of illnesses, including the 1918 flu.

It’s not yet certain how effective plasma can be in treating COVID-19, but it could save lives. National trials are underway, and the Red Cross, in coordination with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is asking for plasma donations.

Friedman sent his lab results to the Red Cross, proving that he had indeed tested positive for the virus. They asked that he wait a month after his final symptoms had subsided. He did and then donated. His wife, Kaela, a nurse who had also recovered from COVID-19, donated, too.

“I was very emotional when they started to draw the blood,” Friedman says. “The feelings of the entire ordeal—of contracting it, getting over it, getting to a place where I could help people—literally came to me in that moment when I was sitting in that chair, and the machine started to take the plasma from me. … I can’t believe that all of this happened. And then I’m sitting here donating plasma, with the hopes that it will save somebody’s life. So it’s very emotional for me.”

He says the virus’ full impact hadn’t hit him until that moment. He put on headphones and listened to jazz while the machine whirled. “I just sat there crying for a couple minutes and composed myself.”

Today, Friedman says, he’s feeling great, back to normal and “cranking at the gym.” He and Kaela plan to donate again. They have a joint appointment for later this month. “We’re going to do it again, because we care and because we feel that we should,” he says. “It’s one of those things where you have a very unique opportunity to help people. And you’ve got to answer that call.”

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