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Hospitals seeing success after infusing plasma in COVID-19 patients

Hospitals are using plasma from former COVID-19 patients to help current ones fight the virus.

Posted: May 17, 2020 6:27 PM

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — Hospitals are using plasma from former COVID-19 patients to help current ones fight the virus.
According to doctors, this kind of therapy has brought positive results when fighting other infectious diseases.  

Thomas Yawn is a COVID-19 survivor in Tippecanoe County. He is the first to donate his plasma under the COVID-19 Program offered at CSL Plasma, a blood donation center located in West Lafayette. 

"Being sick and being in quarantine gave me a lot of time to think about things and if I can help a person in doing this, even if it's just one person, it's worth it," said Yawn.

He was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Mar. 31.

"I think it was just a lucky draw that my immune system dropped a little bit from having a common cold and I just got around the right person... just unlucky," said Yawn.

After his diagnosis, he spent 17 days in quarantine at home. He said he didn't suffer from severe symptoms and he stopped feeling any symptoms after Apr. 10. Yawn has been donating tissue at CSL Plasma for around nine months, when he learned his COVID-19 antibodies could help current patients fighting the virus, he didn't hesitate to give.

"It just made me that lucky bottle that helps find something that helps this go away," said Yawn.

According to Dr. Nicholas Barros Baertl, IU Health's Medical Director of Transplants and Infectious Diseases, one regular-sized adult patient can donate about three to four units of plasma. This is enough to help at least two regular-sized adult patients. The purpose of this therapy is to minimize symptoms while speeding up the recovery process. Dr. Baertl said many patients are seeing success.

"We have done about 50 treatment patients at IU in downtown and about 25 more in other outside downtown IU Health systems," said Baertl. "The vast majority of the patients are improving."

Dr. Baertl said this is a study. Right now it's too early to determine if using recovered COVID-19 patient plasma is the direct cause of these improvements, however, there's very little to no health risks in trying it.

"Less than one percent of the patients that receive convalescent plasma have any reaction what so ever and most of their reactions are very simple to treat," said Baertl. "We have used convalescent plasma for multiple other infections including influenza and SARS during the pandemic earlier in the century so there is some scientific background for this new type of therapy."

Dr. Baertl said using plasma from recovered patients during the H1N1 and SARS outbreak did show a success. He's confident they'll see similar results during the COVID-19 outbreak. He said the plasma transfusion is meant to be a temporary solution as we wait for a vaccine.

"Researchers around the globe are doing incredible work," said Baertl. "However, to produce a safe product that has been proven to be safe, it will take at least half a year to be available. And to be proven effective, couple more months at least, so probably the earliest would be early 2021 to be available to some of the public. That is if the normal key safety features that go into the rigorous vaccine trials take effect."

Yawn started donating his plasma the second week of May, and he can donate twice a week. You must be recovered from the virus for at least 28 days before being eligible to donate. You can find more information on how to donate here.

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