BELLEVILLE - When Mayor Michael Melham visited his primary care physician Wednesday morning, he asked that the doctor test his blood for antibodies related to COVID-19.

“In my role as Mayor, I’m not only an advocate for the Township, but when I can, for men’s health.  I encourage all men to obtain yearly physicals and abide by age-related testing,” the Mayor said. “To that end, I had always been suspicious that I had been potentially positive for Coronavirus in late November. But I dismissed it because I kept hearing the first cases were in January 2020.”

Within five minutes of the blood test, Dr. David Shaker, DO, (Glen Ridge, NJ) Melham’s personal physician, looked surprised as he shared the positive antibody test results with the Mayor.

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The news prompted Melham to think back to the New Jersey League of Municipalities Conference in Atlantic City in November. He recalls driving back up the Garden State Parkway on Thursday, November 21. The Mayor didn’t feel well, suspecting a mix of exhaustion and dehydration from the three-day event and looked forward to a good night’s rest.

But Friday and Saturday of that week were no better. By Sunday night, Melham was awake all night, battling chills, hallucinations and a skyrocketing temperature. “I felt as if I was an addict going through withdrawal,” the Mayor recalled. “I didn’t know what was happening to me. I never felt that I could be so sick.”

The doctor assumed that Melham had contracted the flu and advised that he would recuperate with a few more days of rest and fluids. It had eventually run its course.

That harrowing few days prompted Melham to ask his primary care physician this week to test him for the Coronavirus antibody during his annual physical. And yesterday was when the mayor learned that he was likely among the first batch of cases in the United States.

“We all hear about how COVID-19 didn’t really exist here in the U.S. until January,” Melham said. “That is obviously not the case. I am living, breathing proof that we were all dealing with it months earlier. Others have also told me they were really sick in November and December. We just didn’t know from what.  My fear is that there are many who dismissed a potentially positive Coronavirus diagnosis as a bad flu. They do not realize they have an antibody and they can donate their blood plasma to help others.”

Melham is urging other fully recovered people who tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies to donate their plasma, which have antibodies that can attack the virus. This convalescent plasma is being evaluated as treatment for patients with serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections, or those judged by a healthcare provider to be at high risk of progression to severe or life-threatening disease. Fully-recovered patients can donate through the Red Cross at redcrossblood.org

“It is my hope that this antibody testing becomes more readily available,” Melham said. “My doctor only had 10 of these blood tests at his disposal and was willing to give me one because of my daily work with the public. More and more testing is needed, so that more and more plasma can be gleaned to hopefully save many lives.”