Texas medic who had COVID-19 donates plasma to help others
Researchers are conducting trials to determine whether plasma from recovered patients can improve the condition of current patients
AUSTIN, Texas — Saving lives is already part of the job for Vivian Mancias, who works as a paramedic in the city of Austin. But on Wednesday, she volunteered to give back in a different way: by donating plasma.
Mancias became ill with the coronavirus last month, and her plasma — as well as that of others who are recovering from the virus — might help people who are currently sick recover. Health experts are currently conducting trials.
"By donating my plasma, I'm hoping that it will help improve someone who has a worse case of this virus — someone who could benefit from it, like a child or an elderly person," said Mancias, who works for Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services.
Treating people with plasma samples — the liquid portion of blood that remains after blood cells and platelets are removed — from recovering patients has been studied previously in outbreaks of other respiratory infections. Similar trials were held during the 2003 SARS epidemic, the H1N1 pandemic a decade ago and the 2012 Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus outbreak.
The results are promising, the Food and Drug Administration has said, but the research is still in the clinical trial phase. As a result, health experts have called on recovered patients to donate plasma, which can then be used on current coronavirus patients to investigate whether it's an effective treatment.
We Are Blood, the exclusive provider of blood for over 40 Central Texas medical facilities, launched a program earlier this month to collect plasma from recovered coronavirus patients. They've received over 40 donations so far.
We Are Blood said those who are being treated with plasma from recovering patients are people with serious or life-threatening infections of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Mancias' case luckily never got to that point, she said.
Her symptoms began with body aches on March 21, and her supervisor sent her home early that night after a department-mandated temperature check revealed she had a fever of 100.7 degrees. A test later confirmed she had the coronavirus.
In order to protect those she lives with from the virus, Mancias checked into one of a few hotel rooms that Austin-Travis County EMS has made available for staff members who want to isolate themselves. Mancias is the only medic on staff who has come down with the virus, but others have quarantined themselves away from their families after being exposed to potential COVID-19 patients.
Over the next several days, Mancias later experienced a loss of taste and smell and worried whether her symptoms would worsen.
"I'd go to sleep at night and wonder, 'am I going to wake up tomorrow and have severe shortness of breath?'" Mancias said.
She never experienced shortness of breath while she was sick, which she said she's thankful for. She returned to work April 14, long after she was cleared to do so based on Centers for Disease Control guidelines, she said.
In order for people who have recovered from the virus to donate plasma, they must provide some documentation:
- Donors must have a prior COVID-19 lab diagnosis or a positive result from an FDA-approved antibody test.
- They must have been symptom-free for 28 days. If they have been symptom-free for at least 14 days, they can qualify if they provide documentation of a negative follow-up test.
Plasma donation can take up to two hours, so it is a lengthier process than blood donation, Canedo said.
Also unlike blood donation, some of the blood extracted during the plasma donation is returned to the patient. As the blood is centrifuged, the parts of the blood that are not used for the donation are sent back to the patient, Canedo said.
"In an inspiring way, many of our patients have been first-time donors," Canedo said. "They've never tried to donate blood normally before, and they come in because they know they qualify for this."
Every donation We Are Blood collects goes to patients in Central Texas, he said.
Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott and White Health, and St. David's HealthCare are currently participating in a national study that uses these plasma donations, according to officials with those hospitals.
One donation can potentially benefit up to five patients, hospital officials said.
"We're blown away by these people who are coming in to become convalescent plasma donors after they themselves have fought and recovered from COVID-19," Canedo said. "They're heroes in our eyes because of how selflessly they're making this donation to help other members of the community."
Those who are interested in donating plasma can visit www.weareblood.org/convalescent-plasma and fill out an online form. Staff will review the form and get in touch with the potential donor, who will then have to fill out additional documents that will need to be signed by his or her treating physician.
©2020 Austin American-Statesman, Texas