LAREDO, Tex. (KGNS) – A practice nearly a century old continues today: the use of plasma from survivors of certain illness to treat those sick with the same illness.
Because of the pandemic, it’s become an essential tool in hospitals to collect the plasma of recovered COVID-19 patients.
Although it’s not a cure, it is being used as an experimental treatment that has some form of success.
However, to keep up with the demand donors are in need.
The concept is simple, taking antibodies from someone who has recovered from a virus and giving them to a person who’s struggling to fight it.
Even though convalescent plasma is not a cure, it has become a valuable item for hospitals all around country.
“When a person has had COVID-19 their body develops antibodies and the antibodies are very helpful for someone that is fighting the infection,” said Doctor Samantha Gomez Ngamsuntikul. “The antibodies hang out in the plasma.”
People may choose to donate their convalescent plasma through a commercial plasma center, where those who have recovered are given money for plasma, or they can go to a non-profit organization.
“Whenever you donate convalescent plasma at the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center, your blood stays in your local community, as opposed to going out and being created into a therapeutic.”
Laredo has several plasma centers but Laredo’s two major hospital requests its supply from the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center.
But if you want your convalescent plasma to stay local, you will have to travel.
The South Texas Blood and Tissue Center’s nearest donation site is in San Antonio.
“The collection of convalescent plasma is different, we hook you up to a machine. Then the machine takes your blood and center fuses it and only collects the plasma and it returns your red cells and your platelets. So the procedure is a little bit longer, it takes about an hour for the collection process. But you’re able to donate every four days.”
KGNS New’s Yocelin Gallardo visited the Alamo city to check out the donation process. As a COVID-19 recoverer, she wanted to donate.
Yocelin filled out the online donor request form about a week before her visit, a simple questionnaire asking if you were diagnosed with a COVID-19 lab test and the date of your last symptoms.
Soon enough she got a call and her appointment was set.
Once there, the check-in process was quick and easy, which included a temperature check on her forehead proceeded by a simple health screening.
“So donors who donate convalescent plasma should meet the same criteria as blood donations but in addition we do need a positive COVID-19 result and donors should be 14 days from the last day of symptoms.”
Once seated the process takes less than an hour.
Donors will get their blood drawn out, its yellow plasma separated, and then their blood pumped back in.
Most recovered patients, like Darlene Caruso are able to donate plasma multiple times.
Others, like Yocelin, aren’t that lucky. Although her plasma fit the criteria, in a rare situation her veins didn’t.
“For the return process you need to have good veins, because otherwise you’ll have issues with the return.”
As a nurse, Darlene has seen first hand the devastation COVID-19 has caused and knows without a cure at this time, any treatment to help fight it makes a big difference.
She says it’s a painless and priceless process.
“It doesn’t take long, you were helping a bunch of other people survive,” said Darlene. “Just come out and donate, it’s the right thing to do. You get the satisfaction of knowing that you’re helping more than one person when you donate.”
The South Texas Blood and Tissue Center is in dire need of convalescent plasma donors.
It supplies to hospitals in over 40 counties all across South Texas.
To meet the demand the center needs about 75 donors every day. At this time, its average is about 40 donors a day.
The center says currently it has over 3,000 convalescent plasma units on the shelf, which may seem like a good amount but it becomes limited since donor’s blood type need to match the recipient’s.
In just a couple of days the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center is setting up at donation drive in the gateway city.
“I think for people that have had COVID-19, I think it’s a great way to give back because they have had first-hand experience of the symptoms of the illness,” said Doctor Gomez Ngamsuntikul. “It is a long drive to San Antonio so I think this is a great way to take that bus to Laredo and give the people an opportunity to donate.”
An appointment and application must made beforehand.
“In the words of the great Jim Kelly, ‘do something today for someone who is fighting for their tomorrow.’”
For one weekend, distance will no longer be an excuse to not donate.
The drive is set to happen on Saturday and Sunday, September 26th and 27th at Laredo Medical Center.
For safety precautions it is by appointment and there is online form to fill out.
The South Texas Blood and Tissue Center says there are still slots available. You can call ahead at 210-731-5514.
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