Type 1 Diabetes Educator Donates Plasma After Recovering from COVID-19


We spoke to someone with type 1 diabetes who recovered from COVID-19 and is now helping by donating her plasma.

Hi Ashlee, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. The COVID-19 pandemic has left us all in fear, especially for those who are elderly or have pre-existing conditions. Knowing that we, or someone we love, fits this demographic adds an extra layer to this difficult time.  It is more important than ever to come together and help each other through these uncertain times. I thought it would be nice for people to hear from someone who recovered from COVID-19 and now is helping others to do the same!

How long have you been type 1?

I was diagnosed 16 years ago at the age of nine.

What do you do for a living and did having type 1 diabetes play into your decision?

I work as a diabetes educator in the pediatric clinic at the Barbara Davis Center in Denver, CO. I wanted to be a nurse from a young age but while participating in research through the center in college I knew I wanted to work there after graduating.

When you heard about COVID-19 heading our way, were you nervous? For your family? And for your work as a nurse during this pandemic? Did you feel your hospital was prepared for the outbreak?

After being diagnosed with COVID-19, I was initially concerned for my family and if COVID-19 would affect them. I was not nervous about myself because of how mild my symptoms were.

At what point did you think that you may have contracted COVID-19? Did you know how you may have caught it?

My symptoms were very mild and didn’t present as the typical symptoms that most have. I had a headache, mild congestion, loss of taste, fatigue, and some shortness of breath after walking upstairs. It presented as a mild cold. I actually didn’t even pay attention to my symptoms until I got a message from a friend saying that I had been exposed a week prior to someone who tested positive. Given the fact I work in healthcare and have type 1 diabetes (T1D), my primary care physician (PCP) decided to have me tested. I never had a cough or fever.

Did you call your doctor? Head to urgent care? What do you recommend people do if they fear they may have it?

Since my symptoms were mild, I did not need to be seen by my provider. I knew I could handle them at home. If my symptoms would have worsened I would have changed my game plan. People should be in close contact with their PCP for instructions on when to seek medical attention.

How were your mild symptoms treated? 

I only took one Tylenol for a headache at the start.

How were your blood sugars while you were sick? Did you have to manage things any differently?

My blood sugars were quite manageable throughout my illness. In fact, I had some of my best days of control during my illness. I personally did not notice an increase in my insulin needs which was surprising.

Photo credit: Ashlee Ernst

Is there anything to have on hand that you would recommend for people living with diabetes? 

My best advice for others with T1D is to focus on caring for themselves. The best way to fight off a virus is to have good blood glucose management. I encourage everyone to reach out to their care team for advice if they are needing help with insulin dose adjustments.

Were you nervous you infected anyone else? How long did you have to quarantine yourself? 

There were some fears of the impact of exposing others. Thankfully, the people around me never developed symptoms and/or tested negative. I was instructed to quarantine for 3 days after my last symptom or 7 days after my first. Whatever was longer. My health department was the one who told me when I could end quarantining.

What are your biggest fears of COVID-19 (both short term and long) both as a diabetes educator and as someone who contracted it? 

My short term concerns while having COVID-19 was the impact my positive diagnosis could have on the people around me. As far as long term, I am concerned of the impact this could have on my friends who have T1D and their ability to access healthcare with the unemployment rate.

I understand that you donated your plasma so that you could help others fight this deadly virus, how was that experience?

In the beginning there was a lot of news circulating about donating plasma to patients but there wasn’t a system in place. A couple of weeks after I recovered, the Children’s Hospital of Colorado announced that they had set up a program. I had to answer a long list of questions to be sure I was eligible. I then had to send in my test showing that I was positive. Once that was completed they had me swabbed again to be sure that I was negative for COVID-19. Those results took 24 hours to receive back. Once the results were negative I was able to donate plasma. I was able to donate on Easter and the whole process took less than two hours.

Many are suffering mentally and emotionally from this pandemic. How do you recommend they take care of their mental health both as an educator and as someone who has fallen ill from this deadly virus?

The impact of COVID-19 on one’s mental health can be significant. It is so important to reach out and connect with friends and families. They are probably in similar situations and would appreciate the company. I have also enjoyed taking walks to get a daily dose.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me, Ashlee. I am so glad you are recovered and thank you for taking the time to donate and help others!

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