COVID-19 survivors may save lives by donating plasma


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The holiday season started off joyous for a Virginia Beach family. Their 3-year-old was clearly in charge as the family picked out a natural Christmas tree. Days later, the family, who did not want to be identified, learned the entire family was infected with the potentially deadly coronavirus.

A photo of members of the Virginia Beach family that contracted the coronavirus.

By Christmas Eve, the 44-year-old father had his first symptoms. The symptoms were also mild for mom and daughter.

The father was admitted to Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital on Jan. 1, where he was placed on the convalescent plasma waiting list.

By Jan. 2 he was one step away from being placed on a ventilator. That’s when the wife called 10 On Your Side for help getting the word out about the need for convalescent plasma that is rich in antibodies.

Gov. Ralph Northam has donated and so has former governor Bob McDonnell.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam donates COVID-19 convalescent plasma at Emerywood Red Cross Blood Donation Center in Richmond. (Photo: 8News Rachel Keller)

“I’m so glad you’re doing this story to let people know about this opportunity to help other people get these antibodies — it’s great that we have the vaccine on the horizon, but for those people who are deathly ill and in the hospital now and the short supplies of plasma, this could make a huge difference,” said McDonnell, who was sickened by the virus late last summer after attending an outdoor social gathering.

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell donates plasma in Hampton Roads. (Photo Courtesy: Naval Medical Center Portsmouth)

Late Saturday evening, a plasma donation arrived at Virginia Beach General and the transfusion began. The man’s wife told 10 On Your Side, “once he was able to get a transfusion, we saw improvements overnight. 12 hours later he was able to reduce his oxygen requirements, sit up, and communicate with us again. I have no doubt it saved his life.”

Sentara Healthcare has partnered with the American Red Cross to help COVID-19 survivors who want to donate this potentially live-saving liquid that has been approved by the FDA. Michelle Ellis Young is the Executive Director of the Coastal Virginia chapter, which like other chapters around the country is experiencing a significant decline in contributions of blood and blood products due to the pandemic.

In this Friday, June 12, 2020 file photo, a doctor holds a bag of blood plasma donated by a COVID-19 survivor at at blood bank in La Paz, Bolivia. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

“That emblem of the Red Cross signifies trust and humanitarian care. There’s no charge for those who want to present themselves, we don’t pay people to present themselves, it’s just the right thing to do,” Young said.

A November 2020 study in the New England Journal of Medicine questions the efficacy of plasma treatments for patients with severe cases of pneumonia. As outcomes are still under review there is a high demand from hospital systems across the country.

While the 44-year-old Virginia Beach father continues to recover, his wife is making plans to donate plasma as soon as she is fully recovered. She joins the former governor in encouraging others to spend an hour of their time to potentially save a life.

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