A Potential Boost: COVID-Convalescent Plasma Infusions in Context

In August 2020, the Food and Drug Administration permitted emergency use of COVID-19 convalescent plasma therapy for hospitalized patients. That guideline remains in effect and, while the treatment is not a cure-all, nationwide there are cases in which this plasma has supported treatment for some COVID-19 patients.

What exactly is COVID-convalescent plasma all about? If a patient tested positive for COVID-19 and has fully recovered from the virus, he or she may be eligible to help others who are currently fighting the illness by donating his or her plasma, which contains antibodies to fight SARS-CoV-2—and, as such, this plasma could possibly support recovery for an individual who is critically ill with COVID-19.

For the non-medical folks among us, we might remember “plasma” as a term we learned in our biology class days. Plasma is the largest component of our blood and co-exists with red and white blood cells, platelets, and other cellular components. It helps carry proteins, hormones, and nutrients to the cells in the body that need them. Doctors may use plasma to treat serious health issues, such as trauma, burns and brain and nerve disorders, as well as cancer. It’s an element of human physiology that’s known for its many life-giving properties.

What does that mean for COVID-19 patients in our area? Since August, as global data has increased to assess the safety and efficacy of convalescent plasma as a treatment against COVID-19, at Penn Highlands Healthcare we likewise have assessed whether and when the treatment may be appropriate for a patient with COVID-19. According to Marsha Uhl, Penn Highlands Service Line Director for Laboratory Services, a small handful of Penn Highlands patients have received a COVID-convalescent plasma transfusion; as Penn Highlands DuBois Laboratory Director Kristina Anthony, BSMT (ASCP) explains that on occasion, when combined with other treatments, “It may help some patients get through the disease.”

Additionally, as we reported in last week’s column on the impacts of mental and emotional wellbeing on healing, some individuals who have given COVID-19 convalescent plasma express that they have benefited. Kathy Vander Wiele recovered from COVID-19 and subsequently volunteered to be a donor. “I was excited to be able to donate plasma,” she says—especially because she witnessed what it means to be on the receiving end. “My husband was in the hospital for nine days battling COVID-19 and received donor plasma as part of his treatment,” she explains. “I'm thankful for the person who donated. My donation of plasma gave that same opportunity to two different individuals. I'm grateful for the chance I had to make a difference in the lives of others battling this virus.”

With this in mind, Penn Highlands Healthcare’s blood drive partner, Community Blood Bank, is accepting plasma donations from individuals who have recovered from COVID-19. To be eligible to donate plasma, one must be free of COVID-19 symptoms for a minimum of 14 days and have proof of a positive COVID-19 test. Call the Community Blood Bank to make your appointment to donate plasma at 814-456-4206. Plasma donations are arranged by appointment only.

And with blood remaining in high demand, Community Blood Bank will host a blood drive on Friday, January 22 at the Penn Highlands DuBois Central Resource Center (204 Hospital Avenue) from 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM. Masks must be worn and social distancing and other COVID-19 precautions will be in effect. Note: plasma donations are not taken at the blood drive and must be made by appointment.

A reminder that only Community Blood Bank blood drives keep donations local for patients in our community. Other upcoming Community Blood Bank drives are February 2 (1:00 to 7:00 PM) at Treasure Lake Church, Penn Highlands Brookville on February 4 (1:00 to 5:00 PM), and DuSan Ambulance in DuBois on February 8 (2:00 to 6:00 PM). Walk-ins are welcome, but may be subject to wait times. To register and ensure your time slot, visit www.ourdonorssavelives.org. For more on the role PHH is playing in the fight against COVID-19, visit www.phhealthcare.org/coronavirus.