By Hannah Lester
East Alabama Medical Center and Lifesouth Community Blood Center in Opelika are urging community members to consider donating plasma.
EAMC is giving convalescent plasma from people who have previously tested positive for the coronavirus to current patients suffering with the disease. Some patients have shown positive improvements after being given the plasma, said Stefanie Ledbetter, director of quality at EAMC.
The plasma has the coronavirus antibodies included, said Sharon Carpenter, district director of Lifesouth.
Carpenter said people typically come and donate blood and both blood and plasma are included.
A plasma donation, however, is the extraction of the plasma only.
“You are on a machine, it takes your blood out, it separates your plasma from your red cells, it gives you your red cells back and we keep the plasma,” she said.
When a person donates plasma, instead of just blood, more of the necessary material is extracted, Carpenter said.
“A whole blood procedure is only going to give us one plasma product, if you do a plasma-only procedure, we can get multiple plasmas at that point,” she said.
To donate plasma, a patient must not have had coronavirus symptoms for two weeks, Ledbetter said.
Patients often show improvement within 24 hours after receiving a donation, she said, and nurses are seeing the difference.
“Several of the nurses have done multiple patients and they’ve picked up on that, the patient has received the plasma and the next day when they come back – they’re smiling,” Ledbetter said. “And it’s not a miracle cure but it does, they’re a little better each day after.”
“Since we have seen a rise in COVID cases, your local hospital has also seen a rise in COVID patients being admitted to the hospital,” Carpenter said. “Everyday we receive orders for convalescent plasma, not just one or two orders but system-wide, we cover three states and we’re seeing well over 80 to 100 orders for convalescent plasma on a daily basis.”
Everyday, as more people begin to suffer from the virus, the doctors and nurses at EAMC must assess how much plasma they have.
“We distribute it in the order that it was ordered,” Ledbetter said. “So if I have five patients waiting on it, the first patient that I consented of the five is going to get it.”
Some days the hospital has no plasma in storage to distribute and must wait on orders to arrive. Other days, there may be one unit of plasma, but several patients who need it.
“They’re trying to determine ‘Who is the sickest patient that matches the blood type of the plasma that we have and would they benefit or not,’” Ledbetter said. “So if we had more, I think, that wouldn’t be such a challenge.”
After donating plasma, a patient can specify where they’d like the donation to end up.
“If you don’t [specify] then it goes in the general pool for Lifesouth, so they send it to Florida and then Florida allocates it based on orders,” Ledbetter said.
If a patient donates specifically to EAMC, however, it makes it easier for the hospital to receive donations quickly.
Family members of patients often ask if they can specify for their donation to reach that specific individual, Ledbetter said.
“When they hear that there’s a person in the hospital, or it’s their family member, I get calls all the time saying ‘Can I go? What’s their blood type? Can I give mine and can I give it to them specifically,’” she said. “And the answer to that from Lifesouth is no, regarding plasma. You cannot designate to a specific person, you can designate to a specific facility.”
Anyone who is willing to donate convalescent plasma can call Lifesouth (334-705-0884) to make an appointment. There is also a form on the Lifesouth website.
“We remind donors to bring their masks, if they don’t have one, we’ll provide one for them,” Carpenter said.
The patient will arrive at the Opelika Lifesouth location and fill out a questionnaire. They will then complete a physical.
The entire process, from arrival to completion, will likely last about an hour and a half, Carpenter said.