Doctors urge recovered COVID-19 patients to donate plasma

For the thousands of people who have fought COVID-19 and recovered, you may now have a tremendous lifesaving gift to give. 

It's not new medicine - but it's bringing new hope. 

"This dates back to over a century ago, in 1901 when they had diphtheria. They demonstrated that you could take blood from people who recovered from diptheria, take their plasma and give it to people that have not been exposed. So you're basically transferring immunity," explains Ascension Chair of Cardiology Dr. Shukri David. Nowadays, it's the recovered COVID-19 patients who have the power to transfer immunity. 

"What we're looking for are here patients who've recovered from COVID infection. After 14 days they start to develop antibodies that will fight the COVID viral infection," he says.

Take Henry Ford Dr. Scott Kaatz for example. He was gravely ill with COVID-19.

"I was unconscious, paralyzed, on a ventilator, face down for three days," Dr. Kaatz says. But then he got a convalescent plasma treatment at Henry Ford and remarkably his body fought off the virus.

"You have a patient who's been sick for literally weeks and despite all these other therapies, they still require significant oxygen or being on a ventilator. And even when they're on a ventilator they're not immediately getting better. With all of these heroic measures, nothing's working. And then for us, the chromatic response is, we gave the convalescent plasma and then here he is, looking healthy as ever from home. And then honestly, a week or two ago, none of us I think would have felt comfortable saying that's a sure thing, that he's going to make it through this," says Dr. Steve Kalkanis with Henry Ford Health. 

Dr. Kate's story is part of the study being done by top researchers at Henry Ford, Beaumont, Trinity, Ascension and Wayne State together. They formed the Detroit COVID Consortium to combat this deadly virus. 

"We do have evidence from the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and from the SARS infection that convalesent plasma is beneficial, particularly if it's given early on in the course of disease. Right now, unfortunately, many times we're using it very late into the course. And my plea out there is, if you've been fortunate to recover from COVID-19 infection, please consider donating your plasma," Dr. David says. 

Admittedly, there are still more questions than answers when it comes to convalescent plasma treatment and COVID-19. For starters, researchers don't know yet if everyone makes antibodies, like those who only had a mild case. And while modern science methodically works towards stopping this virus, an old therapy might give new life. 

"We don't have good clinical trials. The antivirals have been of some limited benefit, so really convalescent plasma appears to be one of the therapies that offers some hope until we have one of two things: what's called herd immunity, where a lot of people get infected and that decreases the spread of the virus, or we have a vaccine.

So, who can donate convalescent plasma? 

If you had a positive COVID-19 test and you have fully recovered you are eligible. The Red Cross is screening patients and collecting donations. 

You can get more information here