Innovative treatments for COVID-19 help Charleston man survive

July 27, 2020
Albert and Gwen Jordan
Albert and Gwen Jordan. Photo provided

Albert Jordan wants to be a cautionary tale. “I just want people to wear their masks and be cautious. Wash your hands. This is serious.”

He would know. Like a growing number of South Carolinians, Jordan got dangerously ill with COVID-19.

He didn’t seem like a likely candidate. Jordan is trim. He’s fit. And he’s in his 30s. But somehow, the coronavirus didn’t just infect him — it threatened to kill him.

His story starts in late June. Jordan, 39, wasn’t feeling well. So he asked his mother to pick him up in North Charleston, where he works for a cleaning company. Gwen Jordan was worried. She knew COVID-19 was affecting more and more people in the Lowcountry and across the state.

“I asked him if he wanted to go to the doctor,” she said.

But Albert Jordan wanted to wait a little while to see if he got better. Unfortunately, instead, he got worse. He wasn’t breathing normally and he felt terrible.

A trip to an emergency room led to a pneumonia diagnosis — and a COVID-19 test. Then, the Jordans returned home to see if Albert would get better with antibiotics and pain relievers and wait for the test result. They had no way of knowing they wouldn’t get that result until almost a week later.

Phillip Warr 
Dr. Phillip Warr

In the meantime, things got scarier. The next day, Albert Jordan vomited three times and had a harder time breathing than the day before. And that wasn’t all. “I was lying on the couch. I had my phone by me, and I was talking on the phone to nobody. My mom came in and said I was delusional.”

That terrified his mother. “I thought something else was wrong. I didn’t know coronavirus messed with the mind too,” she said.

The Jordans went to a different hospital this time — MUSC Health in Charleston. There, Phillip Warr, M.D., chief medical officer of MUSC Health and a hospital medicine specialist, led the team that treated him. 

“Albert’s oxygen level was just 83%, way below what it should have been, and he clearly felt terrible. He needed four liters of oxygen immediately,” Warr said.

Albert Jordan was tested again for COVID-19, and this time, he got the result the same day: positive. He was admitted to a special area of University Hospital set aside for COVID patients. There, doctors, nurses and technicians wear personal protective equipment as they take care of patients. No visitors are allowed.

But a doctor was able to show his mother something that loved ones of hospitalized COVID patients across the country are seeing: X-rays of COVID-clogged lungs. “The doctor said his lungs were full with inflammation and all kinds of junk.”

X-ray of Albert Jordan's lungs 
An X-ray of Albert Jordan's chest shows the effect of COVID on his lungs.

It was clear the infection was raging. Gwen Jordan was afraid of what it might do next. 

That fear was justified.

“The hospital called the next morning and said his breathing was getting worse and worse, but they didn’t want to put him on a ventilator unless they had to,” she said. “When they called and told us to make up our minds within an hour, I thought, ‘Wow.’”

But it wasn’t all or nothing. Doctors gave her some innovative treatments to consider, and she believes they helped save his life. 

Albert Jordan was eligible for remdesivir, an anti-viral drug that received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for COVID-19. Research suggests it might shorten the amount of time people with severe COVID have to spend in the hospital.

He also got dexamethasone, a steroid that appears to reduce the risk that COVID-19 patients who are on oxygen will die. 

Finally, he got an infusion of plasma from someone who had recovered from COVID-19. It contained antibodies that might help his body fight the infection.

He also believes he got an encouraging message from his father, who had died four years earlier. “My dad came in a dream and said it wasn’t my time.”

And it wasn’t. The infection that had threatened to put him on a ventilator started to ease. “He started responding better,” his mother said.

Warr was pleased to see his patient’s progress — and impressed by the grace with which the Jordans handled themselves. “Albert was always so stoic and brave. He never complained of anything, but I knew he did not feel well at all. He always did his part to try to get better, including all of his breathing exercises. His mother remained a strong advocate for him to receive the best care and encouraged him daily,” Warr said.

By July 7, the day Albert Jordan was well enough to go home, there were more than 100 COVID-19 patients in the MUSC's University Hospital.

The Jordans don’t know how he got infected with the coronavirus that made him so sick. But they do know how serious the situation is right now. Gwen Jordan encouraged people to protect themselves from the virus, and if they get infected, get the right help. 

"The doctors were so good and understanding, especially Dr. Phillip Warr. They were very patient and understanding. They really treated him well and understood his condition well.”

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