“One donor’s plasma donation can help three people”
That’s what the nurse said to me at the New York Blood Center. One month after being COVID-19 positive, the silver lining came: donating my convalescent plasma. For me, it couldn’t come soon enough.
First, what is plasma and why is it useful? Plasma is a light yellow liquid that lives in your blood. Plasma contains antibodies and a survivor’s blood is charged up with antibodies against the virus. Plasma from survivors may help the critically ill fight the virus. This is known as convalescent plasma therapy, an old method that dates back to the 1918 flu pandemic and has more recently been used to treat Ebola and SARS.
I was never critically ill. How unbelievably fortunate I felt. For that reason, I could get to helping as soon as possible. But how? I started googling how to help, but the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States was so fresh, there was little information as yet. Luckily, by the time I was fully recovered and COVID-19 negative I had signed up for every study and plasma donation I could find.
What exactly does a plasma donation entail?
It was as easy as sitting in a lawn chair. Literally! I sat back in a large reclining chair, and 45 minutes later I was done. For me, there was none of that light headed-woozy feeling some experience after donating blood, because you don’t! It’s a small needle prick, and your blood is taken, the plasma is spun out and your blood is returned (literally). At least, in the procedure I did.
I’ll be honest, walking in that day I had no idea what to expect. It was just the first on a list of donations and studies I had signed up for after I recovered. Something else I’ll be candid about: when I got in my car it felt a little jarring. I had not driven or been in a large building filled with people for nearly two months.
As soon as I got in the New York Blood Center I realized just how trivial that was. Doctors, nurses, technicians, custodians, all buzzing around in complete overdrive, no time to worry about themselves. I had seen them on the news and cheered for them out my window, but seeing them was a sobering reminder that while I had quarantined in my own bubble for a month there was a whole world of people out there who can’t and won’t — for us.
Is plasma working?
Plasma therapy is still in the initial stages and has seen some early success. How effective plasma therapy is for COVID-19 patients is still to be determined and is being studied. Additionally, plasma donations can be used for studies and clinical trials for possible medications and vaccines.
The New York Blood Center I went to is on the Upper East Side in New York City. It’s a neighborhood filled with some of the most renowned hospitals in the world. As I left, I walked down the ominously empty streets to my car. I started weaving the streets of these towering hospitals and I thought of all the patients that filled its floors.
Those patients have a web of people who’s happiness depends on them — spouses, kids, loved ones, friends, etc. There are thousands of patients, on ventilators, perhaps taking their last breaths and worst of all, unable to have loved ones by their side. While the exact effects of the plasma donations are still being studied, that bag of yellow stuff I left could maybe give three people a fighting chance? Suddenly, “one donation can help three people” took on another, higher meaning.
I had the coronavirus, I was never debilitatingly ill, and none of my loved ones have been. I feel so grateful, but also a duty to use that good fortune for those who need it. And, a staggering number need it. This was (and is) the least I can do. If you have recovered from COVID-19, please, please consider donating your plasma. Any questions you have, I will gladly answer!