Meet Andre Valleteau, Clinical Research Coordinator at LMC Manna Research who recently recovered from COVID-19. He speaks about his experience with COVID-19 and how he is using his diagnosis to help make a change.
Tell me a little bit about your experience with COVID-19.
I found out about being at risk for COVID-19 through Public Health of Ontario (PHO). PHO called me 4 weeks back, and notified me that I was in contact with someone who tested positive. They asked me if I was symptomatic and at that time I had minor symptoms.
Prior to them calling me, I really didn’t think anything of the symptoms I was feeling. It was a regular itchy throat. It’s important to note that my exposure occurred, before COVID-19 was determined to be a pandemic. Little was known about this virus here at that time. So when PHO asked began to list the symptoms of COVID-19, I only then realized that I could possibly have this virus.
I immediately went to Sunnybrook Hospital to get tested, went back home and waited the longest 24 hours to receive my results. While I was waiting, I had to compile a list of all of the people I had interacted with 24 hours prior to the onset of my symptoms. That took me into the weekend prior as it was Tuesday. I thought back to the restaurants, bars, social events, work and all the places I had visited. I then had to recall everyone that I had a close interaction with (>5 minutes). My impact list was significant. It immediately made sense why the social distancing guidelines are so critical and are being enforced.
The next day, I received the horrid news of being COVID-19 positive. The unknown nature of the virus and then to worry about who you might have transmitted was overwhelming. I was very fortunate to be have been diagnosed and isolated quickly, minimizing my spread. My symptoms were mostly mild (fatigue, sort throat, dry cough, headache) and I recovered smoothly, akin to the seasonal flu.
I was required to get retested twice, both readings to be negative, before I was able to leave self-isolation. Unfortunately, PHO ran out of tests and they didn’t have a directive for people that were tested positive and in isolation on how we would be deemed ‘recovered’. I (as many others) were stuck waiting in self isolation. In my case, because I work as an essential healthcare worker, it was imperative that I get tested. I finally got them both done, and I was negative. COVID-19 free!
I took this unusual circumstance as an opportunity to reconnect with friends I haven’t spoken to in years, bond with those going through a similar experience as me, keep close to family, and learn new ways to feel like it’s a normal day. People I do and do not speak with regularly reached out and were extremely supportive which was incredibly heartwarming. Although I was more isolated than ever I was also more connected with people than I am used to. I spent my 27th birthday in isolation – I had many cakes delivered to my doorstep which I then had to devour myself. There were always positive things I could draw on to turn this experience into something useful in the long run.
How did you find out about the research trial?
During my self-isolation I was being followed remotely by a doctor from Sunnybrook Hospital. She checked up on me through videoconferencing, to ensure that my symptoms were not getting worse. It was a onetime meeting, but I had her contact information if I needed to contact her for anything.
My extensive experience in clinical research is what prompted me to email her to ask whether there were any COVID-19 research opportunities for me participate. She was not aware of any but informed me that she would look around. She personally reached out to other hospital networks, at which point she was able to connect me to Dr. Mario Ostrowski at St. Michael’s Hospital who was conducting a research trial.
What motivated you to participate?
I want to be helpful in any way possible and make a difference in this global scale pandemic. Contributions to research would be beneficial not just to our neighbours or people within the same community, but to the entire world. This crisis will not disappear without taking action and this was an opportunity to take back some of that control.
Tell me a little bit about the study.
To start, I am one of the first few volunteers for this study. I’m patient #3. The study involves a procedure called leukophoresis in which blood is collected, specific immune cells are separated and stored, and the blood is then returned to the patient. So when I went in they inserted two catheters, one for blood return and the other for blood collections. This procedure allows researchers to study immune cells active against COVID-19 and potentially identify candidate molecules for anti-viral (vaccine) therapy. It’s only one visit where the procedure is completed but it’s a new trial so I can imagine there could be more follow-up visits in the future.
I am also participating in another study at Sunnybrook Hospital to provide insight on an application to help track, monitor, and treat COVID-19 positive patients. It is based on individual experiences, where they apply the logic to developing an app to track related symptoms.
Did you have any concerns about the trial?
Not particularly, other than not being a huge fan of needles, although I believe most would agree with me on this point. As long as it facilitates COVID-19 research, I’m in.
Any words to share with others that are considering participating in research for COVID-19?
COVID-19 has put the whole world in a bus that’s spinning in circles. If you can take the wheel even just for a second and steer it in the right direction, then take that opportunity to help in any way you can. This is a time to look at what can be done rather than looking only at what should have been done. COVID-19 has proven that everyone can have strong impact and that we’re all on the same team. Research is one way you can make a difference!