One of the greatest hopes for COVID-19 treatment right now is convalescent plasma.
The process of using the antibodies from someone who has recovered from an infectious disease to help another patient still inflicted with the same infection is a process that has been around for 100 years.
But the promising therapy depends on donors and right now they are in short supply.
Hospitals are calling doctors and patients are waiting for the potentially life-saving anti-body treatment.
Charles Wilcox is the president of Vitalant Blood Service.
“We’ve been trying to do this for about a month and we’ve seen every hurdle put in front of us,” he said.
Finally, the program is up and running at Vitalant. It is a collaborative effort with Metro Infectious Disease Consultants and the Chicago Medical Society and designed to boost the supply of convalescent plasma for COVID-19 patients in the Chicagoland area.
Dr. Vishnu Chundi is the chair, Chicago Medical Society COVID-19 task force.
“Today we have 12 units available for our group and right now we have somewhere 800-900 patients in the hospital,” Chundi said. “So please come out and donate.”
Just like giving blood, the process starts with the squeeze of the hand. Fluid flows and the components are separated out. The red blood cells and platelets will go back to the donor. Plasma is where the antibodies live.
“I’ve prescribed a dozen doses. I have yet to receive one,” Chundi said. “I think we have our first dose today after a wait of 10 days which is way excessive, but with this program, hopefully, when we order it, we’ll be able to get it and we can help the patients sooner because I suspect the place to give it is sooner rather than later.”
Within an hour, collection is complete. And within 48 hours, the plasma will make its way to the bedside. A single donation can supply antibodies to three critically ill patients.
“Here in the beginning, with so many patients and so few donors, every product we collect is going directly to a hospital,” Wilcox said. “And it’s going to be that way for a while until we catch up.”
Brandon Aquino is a three-time plasma donor who hopes his antibodies will make an impact in those critically ill with COVID-19.
“I had no idea what plasma was until three weeks ago,” he said. “I have a lot of blood to go around and I’m sure there`s a lot of people like me who can do this.”
He said his early symptoms were mild but his condition worsened over time.
The otherwise healthy 33-year-old has now recovered and is focused on helping others. The plasma he donated at Vitalant will be at the bedside inside a local hospital within 48 hours.
“If people tell me there’s a chance something in my body can help a lot of other people I can’t just sit there at home and do nothing,” he said.
To make sure the donations stay right here in the Chicago area and go to local patients in need, the Chicago Medical Society has set up a special donor registration site at covid19chi.org. Recovered patients will need proof of a positive test and have to be symptom free for at least 14 days to donate plasma, which they can do every seven days.