Long before her story received national attention, Corban alum Mare (Suddarth) Johnson (’15) was just one of the unfortunate first individuals to have contracted the COVID-19 virus. When she fell ill in early March 2020, the idea of her story being broadcast to national audiences would’ve caused her enough adverse symptoms in its own right. That would eventually change—week by week—with the help of a positive spirit and one simple, yet profound, act of service.
Back in March, when knowledge about the virus was still limited, doubt and misinformation swirled around the contagion which would eventually launch history’s first global lockdown. For Mare, thankfully, her case was fairly mild, although her experience came with increased stigma due to the newness of the virus at the time.
“At that point, testing resources were very limited,” she said. Initially she thought it was just a case of bad sushi, but when the symptoms persisted, it took her nearly three weeks to convince her county that she was worthy of being tested. “What was more difficult for me was some of the early shame around it since it was so unknown at that time,” Johnson said. “It was more emotionally traumatizing than the sickness itself.”
Relegated to quarantining and managing her symptoms as best she could, Mare was not ready to succumb to negativity and isolationism. She still wanted to find a way to help. Thankfully, her symptoms dissipated quickly, after a few difficult weeks, and no one on her exposure list contracted the virus. After she was officially cleared from the effects of COVID, she heard about the possible benefits of plasma donations from formerly COVID-positive patients and how the antibodies now carried by her blood could help others who were struggling to recover from more serious symptoms.
“That was the beginning of the redemption arc for me, being able to give plasma,” she said. “When people make me feel bad, it just makes me want to go do something good.” She had to wait 30 days from her last active symptom to be eligible for donation, but she used the time to get ahead. “I got my paperwork started in that time because I work in government and I know how long these things can take,” she said. “As soon as they told me I could start giving weekly, that’s what I did.”
The first time she ever gave blood was at a Corban blood drive, put on by her ASB team. Back then, she had no idea it would become such a regular occurrence for such an extended period of time in her life. She was told that, while plasma donation was by no means a cure, it could significantly help patients with severe symptoms and, at the time, was the best initial method available for COVID treatment.
“Plasma donations go to ICU patients, the sickest of the sick,” Johnson said. “Once you’re given a gift—in this case, antibodies—you are to be a good steward of it, and that’s ultimately how I felt.” While very few people would look at a COVID diagnosis as a gift, for Mare, plasma donation was a simple way to give back to her community, since almost all plasma donations stay local.
For her, the benefits far outweighed the minor weekly inconvenience. “This was something that I could do that very few people could at the time,” she says. “And there’s still a lot of misinformation about it. It’s not at all harmful to the donor. If you’ve ever given blood, you’ve basically given plasma before. It sometimes takes a little longer since they are taking whole blood and separating it, but you actually are given half of your blood back, so I’ve found the recovery time to be a lot quicker.”
As Mare went in for weekly plasma donations, she began to form relationships with the donation staff. “I would always tell them while filling out paperwork that if there was anything I could do to help, my degree is in marketing and I’m always willing to help get a positive story out there,” she said. It wasn’t long before Mare had maxed out her yearly donations and could no longer make her weekly trip to the blood bank to donate plasma.
Unable to donate until the next calendar year, every once and a while, Mare would get notified of where her donations were being sent, and the people they might have a chance to impact. “I’d take the chance to say a quick prayer for them right there,” she said. “And I’d thank God for this weird gift that I have now.”
But eventually, the eagerness and desire to help that she had showed to the staff of her local blood bank in the weeks before led them to refer her story to “The Fight Is In Us,” a nonprofit formed by some of the nation’s most prominent academic and medical institutions, relief organizations, and charitable foundations, united in the purpose of helping fight COVID through plasma donation research and relief. Mare’s story and unique positivity resonated with them, and her video message now appears on their main webpage alongside the testimonies of Hollywood actor Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and NBA player Marcus Smart, among others. Her positive attitude and selfless actions opened the door to even more opportunities to share about the importance of plasma donation to COVID relief efforts. Her story was eventually picked up by several California news stations as well.
Back in March, the idea of making the national news due to her exposure to COVID would’ve been more than overwhelming. “When I first got COVID, I wanted mostly to hide in a corner,” she said, “but because there are so many negative voices right now, I am really glad that I get to be a positive voice. I thank God for that.” Mare points primarily to her faith as the driving force behind her desire to go above and beyond, choosing to create positive motion out of a negative circumstance through sharing what she calls her “superpower.”
“I’m so glad that I can help my neighbors in this simple way,” she said. “Jesus constantly showed us how to love the people around us, and this is just another tangible way to do that, especially since I started donating so early on before there were more treatments and measures. At that time, I was told this was the best chance for ICU patients. Knowing that really helped me in my own recovery. Overall, it was an hour time commitment, once a week. It cost me so little and it gave so much. Why would you not make that choice?”
If you are interested in watching Mare’s video testimonial, or learning more about plasma donation, visit https://thefightisinus.org/en-US/home