When the United States faced a blood shortage at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, thousands upon thousands of people rolled up their sleeves to meet the need. Now, donors are stepping up again to participate in a promising new public health effort.
The American Red Cross and blood industry partners have joined the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) effort to collect and distribute convalescent plasma, a potentially life-saving treatment for critically ill COVID-19 patients.
Individuals who have fully recovered from the new coronavirus have antibodies in their blood plasma that attack the virus and may help patients seriously ill with COVID-19 in their recovery. Right now, the Red Cross is asking those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 to visit RedCrossBlood.org/plasma4covid and fill out the online form to help.
“I knew I had to do it”
Marisa Leuzzi was the first Red Cross donor to participate in the investigational use of convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19. Leuzzi tested positive for the coronavirus in mid-March and made her first convalescent plasma donation after it was confirmed she was symptom free for 14 days.
“As soon as I heard about this experimental treatment, I knew I had to do it. I immediately started looking (for) where I could donate,” said Leuzzi.
She traveled from the suburbs of Philadelphia to Pennsauken, NJ to make her donation at a Red Cross blood donation center.
“I had to put my fear aside because someone’s life depended on me doing this. It was super easy, the staff was great to work with and I was in and out in about two hours,” said Leuzzi. Within three days of making her plasma donation, Leuzzi was saving a life.
Investigative Treatment Helps Save a Life
Renee Bannister was COVID-19 positive and being treated in an intensive care unit. She had been on the ventilator for three weeks and her health was continuing to deteriorate. Doctors doubted they could treat her in time.
“Her vitals kept declining and the ventilator was working at 90%. Doctors weren’t sure if she would make it through the night,” said Leuzzi.
On April 3, doctors transfused Bannister with the convalescent plasma donated by Leuzzi. Doctors and nurses kept close watch in hopes that the investigative treatment would work. Within days, Bannister’s vitals began to improve. Gradually her labored breathing became more controlled. Finally, she was strong enough to come off the ventilator and she was slowly weaned off sedatives.
Nearly two weeks later. Bannister is awake and able to speak. She uses FaceTime to connect with her family and dog while remaining in the hospital. She must undergo speech, physical and occupational therapies before she’s considered fully recovered.
For Leuzzi, making a lifesaving plasma donation was her silver lining during this trying time. Her bout with the coronavirus was terrifying, but it enabled her to provide several COVID-19 patients with a form of treatment that can’t be manufactured. Convalescent plasma can only be provided through the generosity of blood donors.
The FDA is still in the investigative phase of this treatment, so there’s still a long road ahead. But receiving convalescent plasma looks like a promising road to recovery.
Leuzzi urges eligible individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 to give back, “Your plasma donation will make a difference and bring positivity and hope, which is what the world needs right now.”
How to Donate Plasma if Recovered from COVID-19
The Red Cross is looking for people who have fully recovered from this new coronavirus to donate convalescent plasma. Their donation may be able to help seriously ill coronavirus patients and aid in families’ suffering. Individuals qualify if they meet specific convalescent plasma and regular blood donation eligibility requirements:
- Are at least 17 years old and weigh 110 lbs. Additional weight requirements apply for donors age 18 or younger.
- Are in good health. Generally feel well, even if being treated for a chronic condition. View blood donation eligibility FAQ.
- Have a prior, verified diagnosis of COVID-19, but are now are symptom-free and fully recovered from COVID-19.
If an individual meets the criteria above and is willing to help, please complete the Donor Request form. For additional information please visit http://www.redcrossblood.org/plasma4covid.