By Colleen Lehmann, Public Health Liaison
Thanksgiving is now in the rearview mirror, leftovers eaten or frozen for future dinners, and that, of course, means the Christmas holiday frenzy has officially begun. At the top of everyone’s to-do list is, no doubt, to finish (or start, for the more procrastination prone) finding the perfect gifts for loved ones. Giving to those in need is also a cherished part of many people’s holiday traditions.
If you are a now-recovered COVID-19 patient, you have the unique opportunity to make an impactful, possibly life-saving difference for someone fighting that same battle. And all it takes is about an hour and a half of your time.
Plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients is sometimes being used to help hospitalized patients struggling to beat the insidious virus. The theory behind this “passive immunity” approach is that disease-fighting antibodies are contained in recovered patients’ plasma—the straw-colored liquid that makes up about 90 percent of human blood. Transfusing these “borrowed” antibodies into ill COVID patients who have not yet developed that immunity is one possible tool in beating back the beast that is COVID-19, though at this point its effectiveness is more anecdotal and has yet to be conclusively determined.
And while COVID-19 may be a novel coronavirus, this particular strategy is not. The medical community has used convalescent plasma to help fight diseases since the mid 1900s, beginning with the Spanish flu and continuing through bouts with SARS, Ebola, and H1N1. Plasma donations have also historically been used to help with blood clotting disorders, for some transplant surgeries, fighting leukemia and other cancers, and recovery from burns and other traumas.
When you donate plasma, blood is drawn from your arm and, in a process known as plasmapheresis, goes into a machine that separates the different parts of your blood. Once the plasma is extracted, the remaining blood parts are returned to your body, along with a sterile saline solution to replace the plasma. All this is done within a single process, and it typically takes one to two hours from the time the needle is inserted into your vein to when it is withdrawn.
Generally speaking, to donate plasma you must be at least 17 years old (18 at some facilities, 16 with parent/guardian permission at others) and weigh at least 110 pounds. For COVID convalescent plasma donation, add in having had a positive COVID test diagnosis, and being symptom free for at least 14 days (28 in some locations). Some facilities will not allow donation if you have had a tattoo or piercing within the last four months, and others require that you live within a certain radius of the donation center. Donors will undergo a medical history screening and brief physical exam, and the donated plasma will be tested for transmissible viruses before it is used for any purpose.
To make the plasma donation process go as smoothly as possible, Community Blood Services representatives suggest the following tips.
*Call the plasma donation center to set up an appointment time, and find out how to do preliminary screening online.
*For the 24 hours prior to your appointment time, drink plenty of water.
*Eat a meal within four hours of your appointment time.
*Don’t exercise/work out for 24 hours after donating plasma, to avoid the possibility of becoming dizzy or light-headed.
Listed below are local plasma donation centers. It is highly recommended you call first to determine if hours and/or policies have changed.
Community Blood Services 1408 W. University/Urbana (217-367-2202)
Hours of operation: Mon. 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Tu.-Th. 9 a.m.-6 p.m.,
Fri. 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Sat. 7:30 a.m.-12 noon
Mississippi Valley Blood 700 Broadway E/Mattoon (217-367-2202)
Hours of operation: Mon. 12-6 p.m., Wed. 12-6 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Talecris Plasma Resources 231 S. Mattis/Champaign (217-355-9703)
Hours of operation: M-F 6 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
CSL Plasma 312 W. Kirby/Champaign (217-207-2170)
Hours of operation: M-F 7 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 7 a.m.-4 p.m.
CSL Plasma 1021 N. Water/Decatur (217-428-9245)
Hours of operation: M-F 6 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 7 a.m.-4 p.m.