July turned out differently than Jon Pritikin expected. The Lodi strongman and motivational speaker who never misses a workout had his life come to a sudden halt.
“I sat in the backyard every day. From 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., I just sat there,” Pritikin said. “I did a lot of soul searching, processing, thinking about life and what I do for a living. It gave me a lot of perspective.”
On Friday morning, Pritikin was kicked back in a large reclining chair at the Red Cross in Stockton, a blue blanket covering his legs. Attached to each arm was a needle and a tube, and to his left, a machine was separating and collecting his plasma.
This wasn’t just a routine blood donation. A COVID-19 survivor, Pritikin is donating plasma to help other patients.
Pritikin is the founder of Feel the Power, a nonprofit that puts on motivational presentations at schools and businesses and uses feats of strength to emphasize the importance of self-worth and self-empowerment.
He recently traveled to Minneapolis during the protests that followed the death of George Floyd. Pritikin was invited to an event that focused on helping students heal during tumultuous times.
On June 27, three days after returning home from the trip, he started developing flu-like symptoms. He moved into his daughter’s room — she moved into the couple’s bedroom — and remained in bed for four days.
Unbeknownst to Pritikin, one of the people he had interacted with during his trip had COVID-19. The person, who wasn’t wearing a mask, was symptomatic and didn’t tell anyone.
Pritikin developed a fever and a cough. He had the worst body aches he had ever experienced. He lost all sense of smell and taste. After four days, he forced himself to go sit outside in the backyard. Sitting in the sun gave him a sense of relief, so he continued to sit outside.
He spent the next two weeks battling the virus. Despite being in the same household, Pritikin said his wife and daughter never contracted COVID-19.
“Going through the process was actually one of the most amazing things, because it taught me a lot about myself. I realized I can’t live in fear of this. It’s a real thing, for sure, but I, personally, I never let fear conquer my life,” he said.
Pritikin has traveled the world for the last two and a half decades sharing his “Be a hero” and anti-bullying message.
With a life mission of motivating people to take charge of their lives, his illness gave him an opportunity to help in a different way.
“What’s the best way I can show the students what being a hero is?” he asked himself.
The answer, this time, was to donate convalescent plasma to help somebody else fighting COVID-19. Convalescent plasma can be collected from patients that have fully recovered from COVID-19 and have developed antibodies against the virus.
“You’re there for over two hours. It’s not the most comfortable, you have needles in both arms. But the thing is, I want to give back,” Pritikin said. “You always want to be in a position where you’re giving back to people.”
Pritikin urges anyone who has recovered from COVID-19 has tested for antibodies to make a convalescent plasma donation.
“They need it really really bad. If you had COVID-19 and overcame it, and it’s been a month since your last symptom, go to the Red Cross app or website and make an appointment and make a donation,” he said. “It’s really important. They really need the help.”
Even with antibodies to protect him, Pritikin wears a mask when going outside or to the store.
“The person at the store doesn’t know I have antibodies. They don’t know what I’ve been through. But I want to show them courtesy and kindness and respect, and that’s why I wear a mask,” he said.
He’s learned a big lesson after his battle with the virus.
“I think the biggest thing, after going through it, is don’t let fear grip your heart,” he said. “Be cautious, wash your hands, do all the right things — but don’t live in fear.”