Recovered COVID-19 patients can help save lives through plasma donation

People who have recovered from COVID-19 now have the chance to help save someone else's life who is fighting the virus.

Hospitals in Houston have partnered with the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center and encourage plasma donations.

We talked to several locals who have done their part to help out.

Ryan Fitzgerald and Ashley Kiker didn't know one another until we introduced them during a Zoom interview, but they share in common what it feels like to fight COVID-19.

"My wife had it and she got better, but I got worse. I got to the point where your mind plays tricks on you and if I try to take a deeper breath, start coughing get out of breath, sit there and try you have to tell yourself to relax, so you don't panic. I was able to treat myself at home, but if it had gotten worse, I would've gone to the hospital," explains Ryan.     

"The hardest part was just the fatigue and lethargy, feeling so tired, that was a symptom. I'd wonder when I was going to feel like myself again. I was so grateful to wake up about ten days later and feel like myself again. I felt so happy," exclaims Ashley.

They both wanted to help ease the pain of others suffering from the virus and possibly save their life, so they each donated their plasma to share their antibodies with others who are sick.

"Hoping that by giving antibodies, it does a couple of things. We're going to neutralize the virus in the patient and try to spark their immune system to fight off the virus," explains Dr. Meredith Reyes, the Medical Director of the Transfusion Service at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, who is hopeful this treatment is working.

"We've treated people early to late in disease, including those who are very, very sick and have seen promising results in both aspects. Obviously for the very, very sick it may not be the answer, but there are promising lab results and good feedback from doctors and patients having the treatment, and I think it's a good option," states Dr. Reyes.

Ashley and Ryan found it to be a rewarding process.

"I was impressed with the efficiency, it was easy. I told them how impressed I was! Someone contacted me on a Monday, I donated within two days, so I got to go in, get a test to make sure I had antibodies, get a COVID-19 test to make sure I was negative, and then donate, all within 48 hours," says Ashley.

"It was awesome!  We can save three or four people's lives a week by doing this. Not many times in life you have the opportunity to truly help.  It's not something you want to be recognized for with the person - this is just for whoever, anyone who needs it and you walk out of there with a smile on your face, it's a really surreal feeling," says Ryan.

If you have recovered from COVID-19 and want to donate plasma, here's what you need to know to qualify.

"You have to be at least 14 days without symptoms, re-test negative or 28 days without symptoms and no re-test so we were too early at first to get people that criteria, but now we have more and more and people are happy to help, and we're happy with the response," explains Dr. Reyes.      

Ashley appreciates how well the medical workers treated her.

"They were looking at me with hope. They don't know how to help these people, but this treatment brings hope to them and so that was really meaningful," smiles Ashley. "I want people to understand who are out there and have had this before that, you can make a huge difference and change a dad, a mom, a child's life, and you know it's something if you've had it and were quarantined for 14 days, go make a phone call and help and do what you can," encourages Ryan.

It's possible for those who've recovered from COVID-19 to donate plasma once a week to help other coronavirus patients.

"People are so happy to do it, to give back in this time of need. It's a bridge therapy, not meant to be the final answer. It's meant to get us through this time until we have a vaccine or targeted medication, but anybody who's healthy and is able to come give plasma, we absolutely encourage it," Dr. Reyes says. "It is a different procedure than donating blood. When someone goes to donate blood, they donate about 500 ml of whole blood, which is all components of blood, so red cells, plasma, platelets, and that only takes 15-20 minutes. The plasma donation is more involved and takes about an hour.  They're hooked up to a plasma machine and it separates just the components we want."

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