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Paying it forward: Louis Meza donates plasma after seeing it aid his wife
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Paying it forward: Louis Meza donates plasma after seeing it aid his wife

After Santa Marian Melissa Meza received a plasma donation from a COVID-19 survivor that aided in her fight against the virus, her husband vowed to pay it forward by making his own donation once he recovered. 

Louis Meza, 47, fulfilled his promise last week after being declared virus-free, making him eligible to donate his antibody-filled plasma for transfusion to a patient in critical care. 

"I finally got to donate plasma today for the first time. I get to go back in about seven days and donate again, and I'm looking forward to it," Louis said Friday. 

'Saving lives': Recovered COVID-19 patients donate plasma to help those still infected

Convalescent plasma donation, a form of treatment widely accepted but still being explored, introduces virus-fighting antibodies present in the plasma of recovered individuals to patients whose bodies have yet to produce an immunoresponse to the virus. 

Louis donated through local blood center Vitalant, the main blood and plasma supplier for Dignity Health hospitals, including Marian Regional Medical Center. So far, Vitalant has received plasma donations at various locations from over 50 recovered individuals on the Central Coast, 20 of which are from Santa Barbara County, according to center officials.  

Louis' donation marks a milestone in his battle against COVID-19, which required him to be hospitalized for nearly a week and in isolation for over a month. Melissa was in intensive care for 45 days with the coronavirus. 

In the latest in a series of public Facebook video updates, Louis shared his excitement at finally being able to donate, as well as improvements Melissa has made. 

Since being admitted to Marian Regional Medical Center on March 28, Melissa has undergone a variety of treatments with her survival uncertain at points. 

After continued reliance on a ventilator and a transfer to Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica for a rare blood treatment via ECMO machine, Melissa is back at Marian and out of intensive care. She is fully conscious and has begun occupational and physical therapy in the hospital's rehab unit, said Louis, who added she finally tested negative for the virus last week. 

On Monday, Melissa spoke for the first time in weeks, saying "Hi, Louis, I miss you, babe," in a video shared with Louis by hospital staff. 

For Louis, his diagnosis of recovery has allowed him long-awaited experiences, aside from donating plasma, such as being able to leave his home or have dinner with his son, Anthony, without worrying about putting him at risk. 

"It got really lonely," Louis said of his time in isolation. "Sometimes I would just get in my car and drive for hours." 

Throughout the process, finances have become a point of stress, as neither he nor Melissa have worked since mid-March, insurance and stimulus checks have yet to arrive and medical bills continue to pile up. 

However, Louis said the community has kept their family afloat, with $33,000 raised through a GoFundMe created by their daughter-in-law and thousands of dollars more sent in checks directly to their house, Louis said.

"It's the only thing that's helping me to pay bills," Louis said. 

One donation totaling $1,000 came from a regular customer at the Hitching Post in Casmalia, where Louis has been a chef and manager for the last 25 years. 

"I called him immediately and told him, 'You didn't have to do this.' He said, 'I know, but I wanted to,'" Louis recalled. 

While Louis is eager for Melissa to return home, he is relieved to be able to communicate with her over text while her lungs and voice recover, something he was unable to do the first few weeks she was hospitalized. 

For now, he tells her that he loves her and to keep fighting so she can come home. He knows he'll have time later to fill her in about everything that has happened over the last weeks. 

"When she gets home, I'll sit down with her and tell her everything," he said. 

Our Neighbors Series: How the Central Coast is adapting to living through a pandemic

We have been publishing a series of stories in print and online titled “Our neighbors: Living through a pandemic.” By publishing these short vignettes, we aim to share the struggle and the hope of residents on the Central Coast. Through their stories it becomes clear that we really are facing the coronavirus together. 

Go through our full collection of stories right here, and if you have a story that you think we should know about send an email to JAnderson@santamariatimes.com

Coronavirus Series: Local impact and reaction to COVID-19 on the Central Coast

We are working hard to get answers about the impact and reaction to the coronavirus in Santa Barbara County, this is a collection of those stories. Do you have a question about coronavirus in Santa Barbara County? The Santa Maria Times news staff will work to answer your questions. Post them to our Facebook page, or email MCooley@SantaMariaTimes.com.  You can support the work of local journalists working hard in your hometown by signing up for a News+ Membership online

Laura Place covers city government for the Santa Maria Times.

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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