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Jim Kenyon: COVID-19 diagnosis brings family together

  • Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Columnist
Published: 3/31/2020 9:14:42 PM
Modified: 3/31/2020 9:14:35 PM

Can some greater good come out of contracting the coronavirus? Mary Maxfield, a retired Lebanon High School biology teacher, hopes so.

Maxfield, 65, tested positive for COVID-19 after returning home from a plane trip to Arizona and New Mexico in mid-March. On Sunday, she reached the 14th day since the onset of her symptoms — and just as important, three consecutive days without any lingering effects.

During the time she was self-isolating at home in Lebanon, Maxfield read about the role that blood from coronavirus survivors could play in helping people who are seriously ill with the infectious disease. Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave permission for convalescent plasma, the part of the blood that contains antibodies, to be used to treat hospitalized coronavirus patients.

“Blood from people who have recovered can be a rich source of antibodies, proteins made by the immune system to attack the virus,” The New York Times wrote in a March 26 story about doctors in New York who will soon begin experimenting with the treatment.

The nonprofit New York Blood Center is collecting, testing and distributing the plasma.

“We have blood centers in New England, Delaware and the Midwest, so we can do the same thing in other regions,” Dr. Bruce Sachais, chief medical officer of the New York Blood Center, told the Times.

In the days following the FDA’s approval, hundreds of coronavirus survivors in New York expressed interest in becoming donors. “This is going to bring people together,” Sachais said.

Now that she’s cleared the 14-day hurdle, Maxfield has started looking into how she can join the effort to help the sickest of the sick.

“If plasma can make a difference, I just can’t imagine not doing it,” she told me in a phone interview.

This week, Maxfield called Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where she receives her health care. After asking to speak to someone in the “blood lab,” she got bounced around a bit. But eventually she reached someone who told her DHMC was “beginning to look into” the use of plasma in treating coronavirus. (I emailed DHMC’s media relations office Tuesday afternoon, but didn’t hear back by deadline.)

According to the Times, potential plasma donors will undergo screening to confirm they test negative. Maxwell sees that as an added benefit to her and other survivors. “It would be useful to know that I’m not actively still shedding the virus,” she said.

Maxfield described her bout with coronavirus as “very mild.” She suffered mostly flu-like symptoms — body aches, a cough and a slight fever — for a few days, but experienced no significant respiratory problems.

Maxfield was also fortunate to have her 27-year-old daughter, Rigel Harris, watching over her. In a phone interview, Harris joked that she spent nearly two weeks “running around the house with disinfectant, walking the dog and doing the cooking.”

Like other older parents during the coronavirus pandemic, Maxfield finds herself taking advice — and sometimes orders — from her millennial children. (Her husband, Robert Harris, died in 2014 from complications from melanoma.)

On March 12, Maxfield departed from Boston Logan International Airport to meet up with college friends on a trip to the Southwest that was months in the planning. She was then scheduled to fly to St. Louis, where her daughter had her first major theater role. (More on that in a bit.)

When Maxfield left Boston it “wasn’t black-and-white” whether air travel was risky. The federal government had yet to declare a national emergency. A few days into the trip, however, Maxfield developed a low-grade fever. She booked a flight back to Boston for the next day.

In the meantime, Harris, who lives in New York City, had returned to her mother’s house in Lebanon. Her play’s six-week run at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis was abruptly halted March 15 over coronavirus concerns.

After arriving at Logan on March 17, Maxfield found a shop that sold N95 masks. She planned to get home on Dartmouth Coach’s last bus of the day. But her daughter and son, Joe, an attorney in Baltimore, put the brakes on that idea.

“We didn’t think she should be around people,” said Rigel Harris, who picked up her mother at the airport.

Back home, Maxfield contacted her internist at DHMC, who arranged for her to be tested two days later. Her doctor, dressed in protective gear, administered the nose swab while Maxfield sat in her car behind the DHMC medical office on Lyme Road.

A few days later, Maxfield learned that she’d tested positive. At that point, “Rigel banished me” to her second-floor bedroom, Maxfield said with a laugh.

Along with looking after her mother, Harris has been taking long runs. (Through a lottery, she gained an entry spot in the New York City Marathon, which is still scheduled for Nov. 1.) She’s also making audition tapes for her manager to send out to casting directors.

While the coronavirus has put Harris’ budding acting career on pause, she can’t imagine not going back to it. “I love it too much,” said Harris, who graduated from Lebanon High in 2011 and Skidmore College in 2016. “I’ve known since I was 15 that I wanted to act.”

This winter, Harris earned a starring role in The Cake, a comedy-drama loosely based on a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court case involving a baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple for religious reasons. (The Supreme Court sided with the baker.) After St. Louis, The Cake was scheduled for a lengthy run in Hartford, Conn.

But instead of being onstage, Harris finds herself in Day Three of self-isolation at her mom’s house. Although she hasn’t experienced symptoms, coronavirus protocol calls for Harris to hunker down for 14 days now that her mother has received medical clearance.

Just call it: Mother-daughter time, Act Two.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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