VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - People who have recovered from coronavirus may be able to help in the front line battle against the virus.
Researchers are testing the use of antibodies in a person’s blood as a treatment for people who are severely ill from the disease.
Tim Martin of Virginia Beach suspected he had more than just a cold in early March. He later tested positive for COVID-19.
“In my 50 years, this is the worst illness I’ve ever had in my entire life,” he said. “I couldn’t even get up from my bed without running out of breath and breathing heavily. It was absolutely miserable."
Now symptom-free for at least 28 days, Martin is using the antibodies in his plasma to help fight against the virus. He was just approved to be a donor by the American Red Cross of Virginia.
People who’ve recovered from the disease can see if they qualify to donate the convalescent plasma by signing up on the American Red Cross website.
Red Cross of Virginia Communications Director Jonathan McNamara said they’ve had tens of thousands of people sign up to donate over the past week, but only about 10% qualify as convalescent plasma donors.
“We put out these calls, and our donors answer,” McNamara said. “We have distributed hundreds of these convalescent plasma donations to hospitals across the country and we are preparing additional hundreds.”
This week, the Red Cross has streamlined the online process by performing antibody testing for potential plasma donors.
“Our job at the Red Cross, our mission every day is to alleviate human suffering,” said McNamara. “This is kind of the fight of our times, and we’ve been working around the clock.”
The antibodies from someone who has cleared the virus could help to save the life of someone who is critically ill from the disease.
Sentara Healthcare has partnered with the Red Cross for the clinical trial.
“Antibodies are how we fight disease, and when transfused to a sick patient, they're a massive boost to the immune system,” said Dr. Mary Baker, a pulmonary & critical care physician with Sentara.
Baker says Sentara hospitals are standing by with two eligible COVID positive patients that will hopefully receive the plasma, but it’s not a guarantee.
Baker stressed the convalescent plasma transfusion is only an experimental treatment.
“This has potential to be great but the science is early and there is not enough data to know if it’s helpful or harmful,” she said.
Martin, however, is hopeful.
Low blood iron kept Martin from donating his convalescent plasma at the Red Cross Thursday, but he said he’ll be back the following day if it means he can help others.
“This plasma donation is one of the ways I can leverage my illness and turn it into something good,” Martin said. “If I can help one person, then that’s outstanding. Mission accomplished.”