Reporter rolls up her sleeve to see what convalescent plasma donation is all about

Coronavirus

If you have fully recovered from the coronavirus, you could help someone else recover. People who have recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies in their plasma that can potentially fight the infection.

A new report finds convalescent plasma treatment to be promising. Still, you may be wondering what is convalescent plasma, how does it work and what does plasma donation entail?

WFXR Investigator Kerri O’Brien rolled up her sleeve to find out.

As you may recall, last month covering a story on local antibody testing, O’Brien was shocked to learn she has novel coronavirus antibodies. She had been exposed to the virus but never had symptoms. She decided to put the revelation to good use and see what plasma donation was all about.

O’Brien first needed to apply online with the American Red Cross. It took a few weeks to get an appointment following a screening over the phone.

On donation day, the visit to the American Red Cross began with a temperature check, a few questions and a health screening. Then, it was time to roll up my sleeve.

“It hurt a little going in but it was quick,” she told the nurse after the needle was inserted.

Jonathan McNamara, the communications director for the Virginia Region of the American Red Cross told 8News, “It takes a little bit longer than a typical blood donation.”

The Red Cross says it can take anywhere from one to three hours. For O’Brien, it was
72 minutes.

“Most of our donors put on their ear pods and watch a movie or their favorite show on Netflix,” McNamara said.

Plasma is a liquid portion of the blood. Researchers believe the antibodies from recovered COVID-19 patients could help others with severe cases of coronavirus boost their ability to fight the virus.

“What we are hearing from our hospital partners is that they see tremendous value in those potential donations that are coming from people who are recovering from the virus,” McNamara explained, “that they believe it will offer some therapeutic value to patients who are still fighting the virus.”

While there’s still more research to be done, a new report from the Mayo Clinic finds convalescent plasma safe and suggests giving it to people early in the battle with COVID-19 is beneficial. The study, the largest of its kind, looked at the data of 20,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients transfused with plasma. Less than 1 percent had serious side effects and mortality rates declined.

“If it can help one patient in their fight against this virus, then it is worth the effort,” said McNamara.

Back at the donation center, O’Brien is given a ball to squeeze periodically as she lounges back and the plasma is withdrawn. She says. “Other than that first pinch and feeling a little chilly, I have no real discomfort.”

Over an hour later, her plasma is ready to be tested and distributed. Since the convalescent plasma donation program began, the Red Cross has collected more than 9,000 units of convalescent plasma aimed at saving the lives of patients with COVID-19.

O’Brien is hopeful one of those units is hers. After donating, O’Brien is given a snack and told to wait a little bit before leaving. She felt fine but once home she admits she had some waves of nausea, a few body aches and was sleepy.

The American Red Cross had told her all of that could happen. Some have no side effects at all. Still, they advise donors to take it easy, no lifting or physical activity and to eat a well-balanced meal. By morning, O’Brien felt great. She said she do it again.

To keep the plasma donations strong and to help with what can typically be a challenging time of year for blood donation, the Red Cross recently added a new perk- a free antibody test for anyone who donates blood.

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