Donating convalescent plasma

Hello blog colleagues.

A couple of days ago I went to a blood donation center and I donated 650 units of convalescent plasma.

Yeah.  I had Covid-19. 

The main point of this blog article is to talk about donating convalescent plasma.  The main point of this blog article is to talk about the fact that anybody who has had Covid-19 has stuff in their blood (antibodies) that might help someone who is less fortunate.

I learned that doctors have a name for what I had.  They call it “Corona Light”.  I had only the mildest of symptoms, and indeed I was very close to being asymptomatic.  But again the point of this blog article is not to talk about me.  The point of this blog article is to talk about donating convalescent plasma.  (Yes if you want to read more about my particular situation, which I will suggest is not at all important in the big scheme of things, click here.  But that is not the important thing to discuss today in my opinion.  I am here to talk to you about donating convalescent plasma.)

What I am getting at is that anybody who has had Covid-19 and who has recovered has a unique opportunity.  You can go down to your local blood bank and you can donate “convalescent plasma”.  Your blood bank can tell you what will happen next.  They will take the plasma that you donated and they will split it up into four portions.  Each portion will go to somebody who is less fortunate than you or me.  Maybe it will be somebody who was in a nursing home or who is 70 years old or who has a compromised immune system or who is otherwise at great risk.  Your plasma is likely to help that person survive the Covid-19 that they just contracted.

I am writing this blog article with a goal of reaching two kinds of readers.

A first kind of reader is the person who knows that you have had Covid-19 and now you are recovered.  It may be that nobody has actually gone to the trouble to suggest to you that you might want to consider being a “convalescent plasma” donor.  Well, if nobody suggested it to you until now, let me be the one to suggest it.  Please go to the web site of your local blood donation center.  I promise you if you go to that web site you will find a page that talks about how a single plasma donation from you might make a life-or-death difference for not one, not two, not three, but four people who were not as fortunate as you.

The second kind of reader that I hope to reach in this blog article is the person who has had Covid-19 and is not aware that they have had Covid-19.  You, too, could donate a unit of plasma and you could have a chance of helping four people who are less fortunate than you are.  How do you know if you are in this situation?  Could it be that in February of 2020 you had a headache?  Maybe in February of 2020 you had a mild cough.  Maybe in February of 2020 you had a fever for one day.  Maybe in February of 2020 you had a little bit of nausea.   Maybe in February of 2020 you thought you had a little bit of the flu.  Maybe you had no symptoms at all in February of 2020.  And there is nothing special about February of 2020.  One could ask the same question about March of 2020 or any other month in 2020.

There are, I believe, somewhere between ten million and forty million people in the US who have had Covid-19 and who do not even know they have had Covid-19.  Maybe like me, you had “Corona Light”.  How could you possibly know whether you are in this situation?  Easy!  Super easy!  You go get what is called an “antibody test”.  The idea here is that you go someplace and they stick a needle in your arm and they pull out some blood and they send it someplace.  And some machine figures out that you are “reactive” to Covid-19.  You can click here and you can see what the test result looks like.  What this test result means, in plain language, is that one donation of your plasma might save the lives of four people.

Here is a New York Times article about this.  Some studies have been done and have found that sometimes the convalescent plasma make a big difference.

So probably everybody should get an antibody test.  If you test positive then I hope you will consider donating some convalescent plasma.

What is the donation process like?  What it’s like is this.  You go to the donation place and you fill out a computerized questionnaire with something like 45 questions.  Have you been to the Isle of Man for more than three weeks in the last ten years, something like that.  I am not making this up — there were four questions about the Isle of Man in my computerized questionnaire.  Then you move along to a human interviewer who has 45 more questions.  Have you injected yourself with a needle with something that was not prescribed by your doctor?  And so on and so on.  This all makes sense of course.  Somebody who might receive some of your plasma will be very glad that all of these questions got asked.  And then they put you on a reclining lawn chair and they stick a needle in your arm, and a super sophisticated machine will pull about 100 milliliters of blood out of you, and will run it through a centrifuge, and separate the red blood cells from the plasma, and then it pumps the plasma into a bag, and then it mixes the red blood cells with some sterile fluid and then it pumps this fluid back into your vein.  Ten cycles of this and eventually the machine has 650 milliliters of plasma which can then help four sick people.  The whole process might take 90 minutes.  I had my notebook computer with me at the time, and the blood donation place had free wifi, and I was able to read the news on my notebook computer during the donation process.  (Not that reading the news these days is actually that pleasant a thing to do.  But I digress.)

Now I know what you are wondering.  What about this business of pulling the blood out of my body and doing stuff to it and then pumping it back into my body?  What if something about this machine is not completely clean from the previous person who was hooked up to this machine?  And I am glad to tell you, the way the machine is designed, each time they finish with one donor, they swap in a new kit into the machine.  The new kit has bags and pipes and it has a centrifuge body.  I am amazed to be able to tell you that every surface to which your own blood comes into contact will have been swapped out since the machine was used with the previous donor.  When they stick the needle in your arm, every surface into which your blood comes into contact is brand new and is sterile.  Your blood never actually touches the machine itself.  Your blood only touches the parts of the kit like various bags and pipes.  During the manufacture of this kit, every surface will have been sterilized and the whole thing will have been put into a secure sterile container, more secure than the packaging for a frozen entree from the freezer case at a grocery store.  You know that plastic that you peel off before you pop that frozen entree into the microwave oven … the packaging for this plasma-donation kit is a bit like that.  It keeps the germs out.

One particularly smart element of the design of the machine is that the centrifuge chamber that separates the components of your blood is swapped out from the previous one.  Some clever aspect of its design provides a rotating joint that keeps your blood from leaking out and permits the centrifuge to do its job, spinning really fast to separate your red blood cells from your plasma.

So the point here is, you are not taking a significant risk to your health by donating your convalescent plasma. You take a bigger risk to your health when you step off the curb to cross a street in a pedestrian crosswalk.  There are dozens of things in your everyday life, like stepping in and out of the shower, that are riskier to your health than donating your convalescent plasma.

So the action steps are:

  • If you are aware that you have had Covid-19, and if at least a month has passed since then, I beg you to contact your local blood bank and see about donating 650 milliliters of your plasma.
  • If you have not until now gone to the trouble to do so, get one of these antibody tests.  And if you test positive, I beg you to contact your local blood bank and see about donating 650 milliliters of your plasma.

Then having donated it, do you get a free pass on donating plasma again?  The answer in these very trying times is, I suggest, that you do not get a free pass.  Whatever reason you found for donating plasma once, well, that reason is still there a week later.  Your local blood bank will probably tell you that you can donate plasma again a week after having donated the first time.

Do you know someone who has had Covid-19?  You might want to let that person know of the opportunity to donate convalescent plasma.

3 Replies to “Donating convalescent plasma”

  1. Carl,
    Glad that you’re feeling better!!!
    So far so good – and no covid app in Illinois (or at least one I can find).

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