When Kelly Clavin lost her sense of taste and smell shortly after returning from Europe in March, she knew something was unusual.
Even though she felt fine, the Helena woman decided it was time to get tested for COVID-19.
And as she suspected, the results came back positive, even though she still wasn’t feeling ill.
“I felt pretty assured it was going to be OK,” she said.
Clavin posted about her diagnosis on Facebook and immediately began hearing from people asking if she was going to donate her convalescent plasma to help others seriously ill with COVID-19.
That’s when she began looking into the convalescent plasma program.
In coordination with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Red Cross is seeking people like Clavin who are fully recovered from the new coronavirus to donate plasma. Those donors often have antibodies in their plasma that can attack the virus, and that plasma is being evaluated as a treatment for patients with serious COVID-19 infections.
Wanting to help, Clavin completed the process to make sure she qualified, and in early May, drove to Great Falls to make a donation.
“The ladies there were so nice. They were so sweet,” she said of the Great Falls apheresis team.
“I can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t do it if you’re eligible. No one I’ve talked to is afraid of the virus for themselves … they’re all afraid of it for someone else they care about. They are afraid of being asymptomatic and not knowing it and passing it on. The vast majority of people out there if there’s a way they can help they want to.”
Clavin is one of approximately 20 donors who have already donated 48 units of convalescent plasma in Montana and Idaho, with more than 25 more donors scheduled to come through the door in Great Falls, Missoula and Boise in the weeks to come.
“We are incredibly grateful for the outpouring of support from donors willing to donate convalescent plasma and possibly help save lives,” said Jeremy Peterson, the Red Cross donor center collections manager in Boise. “It is very exciting to be partnering with the Idaho and Montana communities to be part of the solution during this current pandemic.”
Clavin is scheduled to make a second convalescent plasma donation at the end of May.
“After sitting with this fear of the thing that’s in you potentially harming someone, you then get the opportunity to turn that around and use that very thing to potentially help someone in a significant way,” she said.
To date, the Red Cross has distributed more than a thousand convalescent plasma products nationwide. The process became more streamlined in April when Red Cross began testing convalescent plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies from qualified donors. This automated test screens donated convalescent plasma for antibodies, allowing the Red Cross to simplify the eligibility process and qualify more potential donors.
People who have fully recovered from COVID-19 are encouraged to sign up to donate convalescent plasma by completing the donor information form on RedCrossBlood.org/plasma4covid. To be eligible, individuals must meet all regular blood donor requirements and be symptom free and fully recovered from the virus.
Once they’ve completed the donor information form, a Red Cross representative will follow up to confirm eligibility.
The donation process takes about 90 minutes.
“They have movies to watch and snacks and all that kind of stuff so it’s not bad at all,” Clavin said.
Besides encouraging convalescent plasma donations, the Red Cross is also urging healthy Americans to give lifesaving blood. With thousands of blood drives canceled across the country because of business and school closures and social distancing, blood products are needed to keep hospital shelves stocked across Montana and Idaho.
To schedule an appointment and help provide blood products to cancer patients, accident victims and countless others, visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 800-RED-CROSS.