First San Mateo firefighter to contract coronavirus recovers, donates plasma to help other patients

SAN MATEO COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- The first San Mateo County firefighter to contract coronavirus has recovered, returned to work, and is now potentially saving lives in another way. Dan Noyes first met this hero two years ago and reconnected with him today for an I-Team interview.

We first met San Mateo Battalion Chief Joe Novelli during the Camp Fire, November 2018, and shared the story how he rescued a disabled man who refused to leave, even as flames reached his home; about helping the animals he and his crew came across - the horses, and the little dog they rescued after his family left him behind.

Dan Noyes caught up to Chief Novelli this morning as he wrapped up a 48-hour shift. Back to work, after becoming the first firefighter in the county to contract coronavirus.

Dan Noyes: "Tell me about the moment you realized, I've got coronavirus."

Joe Novelli: "Yeah, it was about midnight. I had night sweats as if somebody took a garden hose and hosed you off, it was that severe and there were five of those the first night."

He went into quarantine. The night sweats continued with a 104-degree temperature, and episodes of shortness of breath.

RELATED: Bay Area firefighters, police bring birthday surprise to 2 kids amid coronavirus crisis

"You're living it, you're going through it," said Novelli, "And praying and hoping it's not your time."

Those were a tense two weeks for firefighters at Station 23 and their families.

"We had worked out together, used the same equipment where folks are sweating," Novelli said. "There's six or seven of us in a room, so I was nervous and so were they, thinking that we're going to get it."

But, none of the other firefighters contracted COVID-19. Once he rebounded, Chief Novelli contacted Stanford Blood Center to supply plasma for a clinical trial to treat coronavirus.

Dr. Suchi Pandey, Chief Medical Officer, Stanford Blood Center. explained, "The thought is that you collect plasma from recovered patients that contain these antibodies, and you then give it to a patient who's currently sick. The thought is maybe those antibodies may be effective against the infection."

RELATED: Thinking of getting a COVID-19 antibody test? Here's what you should know

Chief Novelli asked the Stanford Blood Center staff, "How big's the needle you guys use?"

The phlebotomist answered, "Tiny, tiny, tiny."

We watched as Chief Novelli donated today; the process took about an hour-and-a-half. That bright yellow plasma will help treat three to four coronavirus patients, some critically ill, here or across the county.

"The centrifuge then spins down the blood and separates out the plasma component into a separate bag," Dr. Sandey explains.

Turns out, Chief Novelli is AB-positive; that makes him a universal plasma donor, so every 14 days he says he'll be back to donate again.

"Maybe this is my calling, I don't know, maybe this is why I was supposed to get corona fairly early, but just feel lucky to be able to help out, really."

So much to learn about COVID-19. Joe's partner, Kyle, has not contracted coronavirus. Neither did their three children.

An important message: If you've tested positive for coronavirus and are recovering, the Stanford Blood Center wants to hear from you. Help someone else who might not be handling coronavirus as well as you did.

If you have a question or comment about the coronavirus pandemic, submit yours via the form below or here.
Get the latest news, information and videos about the novel coronavirus pandemic here

Copyright © 2020 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.