As a regular blood donor, Suncor employee Tawfik Elhadad always knew each of his donations might help save a life. But he never imagined his blood could help contribute to global efforts to treat a virus that has infected nearly five million people worldwide.
That was before he contracted COVID-19.
Tawfik, a senior project engineer, was among the small group of Suncor workers located in Madrid to work on the engineering phase of the Base Plant Coke Boiler Replacement Project. Thanks to a quick response from Human Resources, Field Logistics and the project team, Tawfik and his colleagues made it out of Spain on one of the final Air Canada flights before the country went into lockdown. While the group took strict precautions in Spain during their final weeks there, Tawfik suspects he contracted the virus while in airports where cautionary measures had not yet ramped up.
“It started with a runny nose and sore throat, and two days later I had a tsunami of symptoms,” says Tawfik, who was self-isolating and called Alberta Health Services and Suncor’s Health and Wellness team to alert them to his condition. He was tested five days later, and the positive result came as no surprise.
“It definitely wasn’t a regular flu. I have never experienced anything as painful as the body aches and migraine that came with this,” says the 43-year-old, who is not only normally healthy, but also a fitness and bodybuilding enthusiast. Prior to Spain’s lockdown, he had planned to run a half marathon in April and a full marathon in November.
Tawfik takes in a soccer game at Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium.Fortunately, the worst symptoms lasted only a few days, and once he recovered, Tawfik went online to see how people with COVID-19 antibodies could help the cause. He discovered the CONCOR-1 clinical study. Launched May 1, this national trial involves collecting blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients to see if their antibodies can help treat people who are sick. Plasma is the liquid part of the blood that contains proteins, including antibodies that fight infections. After recovery, people produce large amounts of antibodies. Tawfik quickly filled out the registration form with trial partner Canadian Blood Services, and has already given four samples during two visits.
“I volunteered because contributing to the research about this virus will help; the uncertainty is one of the major challenges and learning more about it will help all of us,” says Tawfik. “My plan is to continue donating as long as it is safe to do so.”
Tawfik hopes his blood helps researchers find a treatment and possibly save lives, especially as he feels the virus let him off easy.
“Some people have an extreme immune reaction and end up in the ICU. I am lucky my body reacted the way it did,” he says. “My advice to others is to take measures seriously. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”