By Charlotte Beard

Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center (MVRBC) is accepting referrals for plasma donations from recovered COVID-19 patients. It is stated that one plasma donation can help four people undergo COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma (CCP) therapy.

Not to be confused with traditional blood donations, Kirby Winn, Public Relations Manager for MVRBC explains what recovered COVID-19 patients are donating in terms of plasma.

“During the time that (a recovered person was) sick their body produced antibodies to that virus. Antibodies are carried around in our blood but specifically within the plasma component of blood and it is possible to donate only the plasma. Now we have specialized equipment at our collection centers that allow us to separate the plasma from the rest of the blood components and then put that into a collection bag. We return those other components, which are the red cells and the platelets in the white cell, back to the donor’s body through that same tube and needle.” 

Dr. Martin Schmidt of SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital recovered from the coronavirus and is one of the CCP therapy’s plasma donors. 

“As soon as I was diagnosed, I knew that I eventually wanted to donate my plasma,” stated Schmidt. 

MVRBC provides the donations for therapy to 115 hospitals. Some of the St. Louis hospitals included in those donations are Mercy Hospital South, Mercy Hospital St. Louis, SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, SSM Health DePaul Hospital, SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital, and St. Luke’s Des Peres Hospital. Winn shared that the actual donations that area hospitals use may come from a different city just as the donations made in St. Louis might serve a different city, yet everyone is benefiting from donors.

“People who are sick with this infection – seriously ill in the hospital – they can receive the plasma as a transfusion,” stated Winn, “and then they’re going to have antibodies that were made by the donor when that person was sick. (Initially), their body is trying to produce antibodies to the virus (but) they just might not be making enough. So, this helps support their body’s own ability to fight back against the virus and helps them get ahead in terms of developing their own antibiotics to it. We are hearing that hospitals are using it, but it is not a magic cure. This is one of the tools that doctors have now.”

Recovered COVID-19 patients donate at the Admin, Lab and Distribution site located at 3420 Rider Trail S in Earth City. To deter impromptu visits to the site, MVRBC is requesting that referrals or possible donors first complete the Self-Referral and Care Provider Form for Recovered COVID-19 Patients on their website at https://www.bloodcenter.org. For those without internet access, inquiries may be made by calling 1-833-610-1025. There is a process for determining that donors have met the requirement for having gone 28 days since their virus symptoms were discovered before they would be scheduled to donate.

“We have a team of staff who are working on (these referrals),” stated Winn. “They (determine whether) the person had a positive test for COVID-19, and they need to be able to verify when their symptoms ended. (Also), there are all the other things that we ask (regarding) the eligibility to give blood. There (are) restrictions on places you have traveled, health conditions, and drugs and medications you might be (taking). So, (staff) go through all of that (information) ahead of time. When people come (to the donor site) we do a pre-donation screening. We want to know their blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. It’s all physical (requirements) that you could not do over the phone.”

A plasma donation visit takes a slightly different amount of time than one might spend traditionally donating blood. According to Winn, for approximately the first 15 minutes of the visit is the check-in and previously mentioned pre-donation screening, along with the completion of a questionnaire. The next 45 minutes is spent in the donation chair where a donor provides plasma.

Winn stated, “Plasma donation takes more time because the machine next to the donor is operating and separating the blood components as it goes; it’s just more time consuming.” 

“The process is very easy,” Schmidt shared. “I had no problem with it, and you can help a lot of other people. I feel very fortunate that I had a mild case of COVID-19, but there is a lot of people out there suffering with much more severe cases. If I can help some of them, I’m more than happy to do that.”

According to Winn, every hospital in the United States is submitting information to the Mayo Clinic that is coordinating a national research project to determine the effectiveness of CCP therapy. 

“We appreciate people who are stepping forward for a plasma donation,” stated Winn, “because we know that those people have been through a lot; they got sick and then had to get better. Now they are looking for ways that they can help other people. We’re going to really rely on blood donors who give the traditional donations also to make sure that we have enough available this summer.”

CUTLINE: Submitted photo Dr. Martin Schmidt of SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital recovered from the coronavirus and is one of the CCP therapy’s plasma donors.