After 73 days in the hospital, his COVID-19 recovery continues
By Sharon Wisch-Ray
If you are active in the Dallas Jewish community, chances are you’ve met Michael Hoffman or been impacted by his good works. The 54-year-old Dallas attorney has been on numerous boards, including AJC Dallas, Levine Academy, Temple Emanu-El and Vogel Alcove, where he was board chair. Quite simply, he is the definition of the word mensch, always going out of his way to help people, offering sagacious advice, listening carefully.
It is no surprise then, when he took ill from COVID-19 in March, the Jewish community rallied around him and his family.
His illness began following a spring break trip to Spain to visit son Jake, a Washington University junior who was studying abroad. Michael and son Aaron, an Austin College freshman, made the trip while Jackie, also an attorney, and their daughter Rebecca, a Hockaday sophomore, stayed behind. Michael, Jake and Aaron returned home in mid-March. Within a few days of their return, Michael developed the COVID-19 symptoms with which we have all become so familiar: fever, cough, body aches. On March 17, Jackie drove him to the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas emergency room. His condition deteriorated rapidly. The next day he was placed on a ventilator, where he remained until April 17.
Fighting for his life
In those precarious intervening days, Michael battled COVID-19, secondary infections and Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). His wife and children called and FaceTimed him every evening as a family, even though he was sedated and couldn’t respond. They were not allowed to be with him. There were times that got scary, and Jackie was brought to Michael’s bedside very late at night on two occasions — an exception allowed only in the gravest of situations.
Michael’s Presbyterian Dallas
medical team, led by pulmonologist Dr. Gary Weinstein, tried everything in the “emerging” book. It became clear that one intervention that needed to be tried was the use of convalescent plasma. The treatment dates back to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918. It was also used during the 2003 SARS outbreak, the 2009 swine flu (H1N1) outbreak and the 2014 Ebola outbreak (including three patients at Presbyterian Hospital) according to many sources. Essentially, the plasma of a recovered patient with antibodies to the disease in question is transfused into the patient. Michael was approved for the treatment through a compassionate use pathway. This is the practice of giving critically ill patients access to new treatments outside the clinical process and requires federal government approval. Without it, he might not survive.
The search was on for a donor. On April 9, family friends Dana Eisenberg and Lauren Zlotky and other close family friends mobilized the Jewish community to find someone who had had COVID-19 and now had the all-important antibodies. The TJP shared the information with the local Jewish community and with the Houston Jewish community through the Jewish Herald Voice. Hundreds of people responded. Meanwhile, Michael’s Presbyterian treatment team searched for a donor as well. And, on April 10, Michael received a transfusion of convalescent serum containing COVID-19 antibodies from a hero outside the Jewish circle — Leonard Seiple.
According to an April 25 Dallas Morning News report, Seiple, a commercial realtor, had experienced some of the telltale signs of COVID-19: chills, body aches, fatigue and cough. His Denton Veterans Affairs’ physician advised him to get tested at an annual exam in early April, which was how he ended up at Texas Health Dallas April 8. His test was negative for COVID-19, but positive for its antibodies. His blood type was also a match for Hoffman, who was the first patient at Presbyterian to receive convalescent plasma in the treatment of COVID-19. Following the transfusion, steady progress ensued.
The long way home
By April 15, Michael began “test-driving” his lungs in 15-minute increments as he battled to come off the ventilator.
On April 17, Jackie wrote on Caring Bridge: “I wish that I could directly speak to each and every one of you today to tell you the amazing news that Michael came off the ventilator and is breathing on his own with some supplemental oxygen through his nose! I received a ‘surprise’ FaceTime call from his doctor, who showed me Michael, breathing on his own, eyes open, alert and trying to talk back to me (but not surprisingly his voice doesn’t work yet). I cannot possibly articulate the joy, relief and love (in no particular order) I felt as I was truly overwhelmed with emotions — nor can I express the gratitude I feel for everyone who helped Michael achieve this monumental goal. We have work ahead of us, but all of that is now doable!”
Almost a week later, the Hoffmans’ sons, Jake and Aaron, donated their plasma, as they both had contracted COVID-19 as well, one of them with a mild case, the other asymptomatic. Since then, Aaron has donated again and Jake will as well.
As he recovered, Michael began to make steady progress. By April 25, he was transferred out of the ICU to an intermediate unit at Presbyterian. He worked every day with physical therapists.
On May 2, he walked with a walker … twice. “Just for the record, and it may be one, this is only two weeks following 30 days on a ventilator — Michael is extraordinary,” wrote Jackie.
On May 6, he went to inpatient rehab. Jackie wrote, “There were times that despite my unrelenting hope — I worried that this day would not come. With Michael’s own strength, determination, and endurance we have all made this step with him and we are one more step closer to his coming home. While that still may be several weeks away it is well within our sights.”
That day happened on Friday, May 29. Michael said goodbye to the team that helped him survive — doctors, nurses, physical therapists, other hospital staff and Leonard Seiple. He was blessed by Rabbi David Stern and he walked with his cane, got into his family’s waiting car and went home. It was the best Shabbat ever for the Hoffman family.
On Sunday, May 31, as protests broke out in downtown Dallas, the family experienced a little slice of heaven at their North Dallas home. For an hour, friends and well-wishers drove through their circular drive, with balloons and signs welcoming Michael home.
Throughout the car parade, Michael stood, smiling, and in his soft voice — still recovering from being on a ventilator for a month — greeted every single one by name. At times placing his hands on his heart to express the gratitude and joy he felt. It was hot and he didn’t rest or sit, not once.
“I am just so grateful for everyone and everything. Everyone has been so amazing.” he told the TJP.
After their harrowing 73-day experience, the Hoffmans have settled into a new normal.
Michael goes to intensive outpatient therapy every day and continues to improve. The couple celebrated their 24th anniversary Tuesday, June 9.
“We cannot over-emphasize our hope that people will be careful and cautious and follow recommendations to protect themselves and others so that nobody will have to know what it is to be in our shoes, to wait phone call to phone call, hour to hour, while family members are cruelly kept apart during their greatest need for comfort, kindness, companionship and a loving touch. Wear masks, social distance and be kind because that is how we can take of each other,” said Jackie.
Have you recovered from COVID-19? To explore if you are a potential convalescent plasma donor, contact Carter Bloodcare at 817-412-5830 or online at carterbloodcare.org.