GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4) – As COVID-19 cases soar throughout the nation, those who have previously contracted the virus are now being tapped to help others survive it. Convalescent plasma donations are needed from those who have recently recovered from COVID-19, as the plasma can be transfused in to patients who need antibodies to recover.
As the pandemic continues to fill hospital beds globally, as a new wave of the virus surges, plasma is now in greater need than before.
“We are all aware that we have seen an uptick in cases. What that means for us is an uptick in need for convalescent plasma,” said Kaitlin Zobel, Blood Donor Recruiter with UCHealth.
Everyday thousands of additional people are walking around with the key to battling COVID-19 literally flowing right through them. Convalescent plasma is found in our blood. For those who recently overcame COVID, oftentimes their plasma has important antibodies within that directly help them fight off the virus.
“These people can help our patients in the hospital recover faster,” Zobel told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas. “We are looking to collect their plasma.”
The plasma is collected at local health centers, where a donation often takes less than an hour to complete. An IV is hooked up to a machine which separates plasma from blood. Then, the blood is returned to the donor while the plasma is stored in small bags.
“When you recover from COVID your body develops certain antibodies,” Zobel said.
Then, those bags of plasma are frozen and stored at area hospitals until a patient with COVID-19 is in need of a transfusion. One person’s plasma can be the lifeline a stranger needs during the battle for their life.
In northern Colorado all four members of the Sogge Family contracted the virus. Michelle, Doug, Morgan and Lee all had coronavirus in the summer. While each had COVID, none of them had the same experience battling it.
“We all kind of had different reactions to it,” Morgan, 29, said. “There were just so many unknowns that it did get a little scary.”
The patriarch of the family, Doug, arguably had the most challenging time overcoming the virus. At 61 years old, Doug was forced to take nearly two months off of work during his battle. He said he had a hard time doing things like climbing stairs and mowing the lawn. He even had to be hospitalized for two days.
“This was a little more serious than I thought it was,” Doug said.
Michelle, 61, is a medical professional at an area hospital. She, too, had difficulty breathing. However, she was able to return to work sooner.
“I was out of work for five weeks,” Michelle said.
Lee, 28, had a cough, shortness of breath and some aches. He said his greatest issue was being lethargic. Morgan, also a medical professional, had the easiest time battling the virus. She said she never had any symptoms, and only knew she once had COVID-19 because of an antibody test she took once her family became ill.
“I didn’t have any of the symptoms. So, I didn’t have the shortness of breath. I didn’t have the cough, fever, chills,” Morgan said.
Because of their exposure to — and recovery from — COVID-19 they were ideal candidates to donate plasma.
“When we heard you could give convalescent plasma, we were all curious how you could go about that,” Morgan said.
However, they learned not everybody is qualified to donate. Hospital networks, and other providers, have a growing list of requirements one must meet in order to donate. At UCHealth, some of those are based around a person’s symptoms from COVID and the time since they last tested positive. Of the four Sogges, only Doug and Lee qualified to donate.
“I was kind of sad about that. I would have really liked to have donated,” Michelle said.
“If my plasma can help someone with COVID who is effected, and it helps save their life, that would be tremendous,” Lee said. “Anything I can do to help get us through this.”
“It was painless. It is just like giving blood, probably even easier,” Doug said.
Zobel encouraged those who recently recovered from COVID-19 to apply to donate their convalescent plasma. She said donors should consider giving sooner, rather than later. Sometimes those who wait are disqualified as their antibody levels drop.
“We are giving (new patients) the antibodies they need to build immunity,” Zobel said. “Not only are you helping the patient, you are helping their friends and family. You are helping the entire community.”
As cases continue to rise throughout Colorado, the stockpile of plasma is needed more than ever before.
“If you can do it and help others out, I think you should,” Michelle said. “It is not a cure, but it helps them recover quicker.”
UCHealth shared the following information on plasma donations:
- From Oct. 12 to Nov. 2, the Garth Englund Blood Donation Center in Fort Collins saw a 271% increase in convalescent plasma transfusions for hospitalized patients.
- Just in the past 7 days, we’ve used roughly 40 units at four of our northern Colorado hospitals.
- So far, 185 people have donated through Garth Englund Blood Donation Center. And they’ve contributed approximately 575 units.
- Important to note that all plasma donated through Garth Englund Blood Donation Center stays local to help others who are hospitalized in Colorado.
How do you qualify to donate convalescent plasma?
COVID-19 convalescent plasma may only be collected from people who have recovered from COVID-19. You must have:
- A prior diagnosis of COVID-19 documented by a laboratory test.
- Complete resolution of symptoms for at least 14 days before the donation.
- Experienced symptoms within the last three months.
- Met all the requirements for blood donation.
- After the first convalescent plasma donation, the plasma is given a titer test to determine antibody strength. Read more about donating convalescent plasma.
Where can I donate convalescent plasma?
- In Longmont, Greeley, Loveland, Fort Collins, Estes Park: Fill out this form or contact Kaitlin Zobel with the Garth Englund Blood Donation Center in Fort Collins: 970-495-8987.
- For those outside of the Fort Collins area, you may find additional information, donation opportunities and see if you qualify to donate blood or convalescent plasma by visiting Vitalant.org or call 877-25-VITAL (877-258-4825).