Austin health experts credit plasma donation to helping treat COVID-19 patients

Simple Health

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin/Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said plasma donations are helping Central Texas hospitals treat and release patients who become sick.

As health officials continue to experiment with options until a COVID-19 vaccine is released, Dr. Escott said that plasma is being used earlier in the treatment plan and that studies show promising results.

“Our hope is that the hospital length-of-stay will diminish, which should put us in a better position when it comes to a need for hospital beds in the future,” Dr. Escott said.

Dr. Escott said that the length-of-stay for hospital patients diagnosed with COVID-19 is around 11 days, but there is substantial variability for each patient, including their age and preexisting medical conditions.

Convalescent plasma donation is a simple process, similar to drawing blood. It requires that the patient once test positive for COVID-19 and have fully recovered for at least 14 days.

For Austinite Jason Perkins, who tested positive shortly after returning home from a ski trip in Switzerland early this year, the choice was obvious.

“Everybody had been helping me out, so if I can donate some plasma and help someone else out, I should do that,” Perkins said.

Perkins is one of 110 Central Texas donors who have given their plasma. Ascension Texas Hospital officials say they’ve treated 75 patients alone. St. David’s HealthCare has treated 50 patients using donated plasma, with 34 of them being at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center.

One issue is that without clinical trials involving the plasma, researchers cannot correlate with certainty that patient improvements are directly attributable to the plasma infusion. It is still unclear how many of the aforementioned Central Texas patients have recovered after receiving the plasma.

“The physicians that are using it as treatment for patients are reporting anecdotally good results,” said Nick Canedo, the Vice President of Community Engagement for We Are Blood, the only blood donation center collecting convalescent plasma in Central Texas. “But right now, they are using it and finding that it may be even more useful for earlier treatments when patients are admitted to hospitals and less when it gets to the most serious stage.”

Each patient, when approved, can donate up to five units of plasma. One unit will benefit approximately one patient. You must have been diagnosed and have fully recovered from COVID-19 in order to donate.

Canedo said he is pleased with the gracious response of Central Texans willing to sign up to donate. There have been 300 submissions online through the questionnaire form, resulting in over 110 donors which has served 130 COVID-19 patients.

But the need is still ongoing.

Experts are calling for more donors to come forward in case there is a second wave and more people need to be treated.

“Because of the strong response from our community, we are able to supply not just one unit, but a couple units of that plasma to patients in need when that request is made,” Canedo said. “By collecting that Convalescent plasma now, we will be prepared for that moment and be able to treat patients as they need.”

Perkins said he plans to re-donate as soon as possible.

“If there’s any chance that this can help cure people or find a cure for this, then why not?” Perkins said.

If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and have fully recovered for at least 14 days, you can fill out a questionnaire and make an appointment to donate convalescent plasma here.

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