MD Anderson seeks plasma donations
The MD Anderson Blood Bank is seeking plasma donations from those who’ve recently recovered from a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis (COVID-19 convalescent plasma).
These plasma donations may be used by MD Anderson to treat seriously ill COVID-19 patients. MD Anderson is participating in a national initiative led by the Mayo Clinic to provide plasma from recovered patients to seriously ill COVID-19 patients. People who’ve already had COVID-19 continue to have antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVD-19 disease) in their plasma. Researchers think these antibodies could help stimulate a stronger immune response in patients with COVID-19.
To obtain plasma, the MD Anderson Blood Bank uses a specialized machine to separate a donor’s plasma from the red blood cells, which are returned to the donor. The same method of plasma collection will be used to collect COVID-19 convalescent plasma from donors who meet the eligibility criteria below.
Convalescent plasma donor eligibility
To donate plasma, you must meet certain eligibility criteria. Eligible donors must have:
- A diagnostic test (e.g., nasopharyngeal swab) at the time of illness OR a positive serological test for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies after recovery, if prior diagnostic testing was not performed at the time COVID-19 was suspected.
- complete resolution of symptoms at least 28 days prior to donation
- have no history of cancer diagnosis
- be at least 17 years of age
- weigh at least 110 pounds
- be in good health on day of donation
- have a valid photo ID
- meet eligibility qualifications as a blood donor
Those who meet the plasma donation eligibility criteria and who are willing and able to do so will be asked to donate twice within a three-month period, with at least four weeks between donations.
How to donate convalescent plasma at MD Anderson
The process for donating COVID-19 convalescent plasma is similar to that of donating blood. If you meet the above criteria and want to donate plasma, email email@example.com. Be sure to include your full name and a contact number in your email.
A donation recruiter will call you to confirm that you’re eligible to donate. If you are, you will be scheduled for a COVID-19 convalescent plasma donation appointment at MD Anderson’s Mays Clinic Donor Center.
When you arrive to donate COVID-19 convalescent plasma, you will sign consent forms and then donate plasma, which usually takes 45-60 minutes. Your second plasma donation appointment will be scheduled before you leave.
As a mom, fellow in breast cancer surgery and a former general surgery resident, I’m used to handling tough situations. But this past March, I found myself completely overwhelmed when my entire family was diagnosed with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
I wanted to do my breast cancer surgery fellowship at MD Anderson not only because it’s the nation’s No. 1 cancer center, but also because the people here genuinely care about each other. During my illness with COVID-19, I experienced that compassion firsthand. My colleagues were more caring than I could ever have imagined. They even supported me after I recovered, when I donated plasma that may be used to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients.
My COVID-19 symptoms and illness
I developed a fever at home and tested positive for COVID-19 on March 16. My husband, Steven, developed COVID-19 symptoms at the same time and had to be hospitalized a few days later because his respiratory symptoms were so severe. That meant I was home alone with two toddlers, as I was trying to fight the coronavirus and feeling miserable.
I had fever, chills, fatigue, cough, a headache and temporarily lost my senses of smell and taste. I was literally the sickest I’ve ever been in my entire life -- and I had to take care of Declan and Aidan. They’re 3 years old and 22 months, so they can be quite the handful. Both kids also had low-grade fevers and were presumed positive for COVID-19.
Support from my MD Anderson family
When you're a mom and a surgeon, you learn to pull it together, tough it out and do what you've got to do. But this was something I’d never faced before, especially without my husband, my rock, by my side.
My MD Anderson Breast Surgical Oncology family rallied together and helped me out in any way they possibly could. They dropped off meals, left presents at the door to keep my kids entertained, and people constantly checked in on me -- all while safely practicing social distancing, of course. Some of MD Anderson’s top surgeons even called the hospital where Steven had been admitted to check in on him, too.
It wasn’t just my closest friends or the people I would expect to help either. The entire MD Anderson community really proved how exceptional this place is, and I’m so grateful. Their support helped me get through the most difficult weeks of my life. Thankfully, my entire family is now recovered.
MD Anderson took extra COVID-19 precautions
I contacted MD Anderson’s Employee Health team when I began having symptoms. Based on my screening results, they directed me to a free testing site for MD Anderson employees and continued to check in with me regularly. I was one of the first people at MD Anderson to test positive for COVID-19, which is part of what made my experience so scary.
But MD Anderson was quick to step in and take extra precautions above and beyond the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in order to protect our patients and to protect employees like me. I wasn’t surprised because MD Anderson has been on the forefront of the coronavirus pandemic, taking precautions as early as January to protect our patients and workforce.
My convalescent plasma donation for COVID-19 patients
As soon as I was cleared to go back to work, I reached out to MD Anderson Blood Bank about donating plasma. I knew that people who are infected by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, develop antibodies to the virus as part of their body’s defense. Once they have recovered, those antibodies remain in their plasma. The thought is that those antibodies could help stimulate a stronger immune response in those fighting the virus. MD Anderson is participating in a national FDA expanded access initiative led by the Mayo Clinic to provide plasma from recovered patients to patients currently facing the disease, and I wanted to do my part.
I’m afraid of needles, so when I told my family I was planning to donate plasma, my husband and mother were shocked. But after so many people went out of their way to help me, I knew I wanted to return the favor and go out of my way to help others.
Because of that fear, I’d never donated blood before, but I wanted to be part of this national initiative led by the Mayo Clinic to provide plasma from recovered patients to seriously ill COVID-19 patients. Last week, I made my first convalescent plasma donation, making me the second person to do so at MD Anderson. I was glad to know that Dr. George Chang, another surgeon, was the first.
The MD Anderson Blood Bank was wonderful with working around my hectic schedule to find a time for me to donate. Dr. Brittany Murphy, another breast surgery fellow, even popped into the Blood Bank to support me during my donation – from a safe distance. When I finished donating, I was so happy and proud to have the opportunity to help others who are facing COVID-19.
Focused on patients, no matter what COVID-19 brings
I could never have predicted this is how my training would go when I began my fellowship year at MD Anderson. The institution’s response to the novel coronavirus has affected the way that we train and operate. It’s taught me unexpected lessons about how to adapt, be flexible, be efficient and have patience. It’s also reminded me to be grateful for friends and family, especially my husband, who’s truly a Super Dad.
As I’m helping my breast cancer patients through this hectic time, I’m reminded why I wanted to become a breast cancer surgeon: it requires caring for the whole patient. We help breast cancer patients through one of the most difficult times in their lives. Even though things are scarier than usual for our cancer patients right now, I’m committed to helping them through cancer no matter what COVID-19 throws our way.
Learn about donating COVID-19 convalescent plasma to MD Anderson online or by calling the MD Anderson Blood Bank at 713-745-6742.
While George Chang, M.D., battled the cough, high fever and severe body aches caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19), his immune system was producing antibodies -- “warrior” proteins that fight infections.
“I had a rough go of it, but in the end, my body produced the antibodies to beat the coronavirus,” says Chang, a colorectal cancer surgeon at MD Anderson.
Most antibodies are found in plasma -- the yellow, liquid part of the blood. Chang is donating his plasma to MD Anderson Blood Bank. His plasma donation may be used by MD Anderson to treat severely ill COVID-19 patients as part of a national initiative led by the Mayo Clinic.
This effort will help doctors determine if plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients can help those currently facing the disease. People who’ve already had COVID-19 may have antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus -- the virus that causes COVD-19 disease -- in their plasma. Researchers think these antibodies could help stimulate a stronger immune response in patients with COVID-19. If they do, convalescent plasma may serve as a bridge until COVID-19 treatments or a vaccine become available.
“There’s no effective treatment for COVID-19, so patients who are the sickest are willing to try this,” Chang explains. “If this works, it can save lives.”
Convalescent plasma: an old therapy for a new coronavirus
The idea of using one person’s antibodies to help another person fight a virus is not new.
“Physicians have used plasma to treat other viral infections including the Ebola virus,” says Elizabeth Shpall, M.D., who is leading MD Anderson’s participation in the national convalescent plasma effort with Kimberly Klein, M.D., and Fernando Martinez, M.D. “While not proven yet for COVID-19, early indications show it could be beneficial for some patients and we are glad the FDA has made it an option.”
Doctors and researchers will be monitoring progress closely to determine how well convalescent plasma works to treat COVID-19 patients. The strongest evidence regarding the effectiveness and safety of the experimental treatment will come from this national effort.
When the doctor becomes a COVID-19 patient
Chang hopes donating his convalescent plasma can help others facing COVID-19.
For him, the coronavirus started with mild cold symptoms, before escalating to an almost 103 degree fever that wouldn’t subside. His muscles and joints began to severely ache, and, as he recalls, “I had the worst headache of my life.”
Chang struggled to answer emails and work from home.
“Before long, I couldn’t think straight,” he says.
After a week of worsening symptoms, he began to feel a bit better – but only for a day.
That’s when his immune system became overzealous and went rogue – attacking not only the COVID-19 virus but also the healthy cells in his body. This severe immune reaction occurs occasionally with COVID-19.
“I was short of breath,” Chang recalls. “I’d try to talk, but I’d run out of breath after a few words.”
He was admitted to a local hospital, then discharged the following evening when his fever began to recede and his breathing eased.
After his symptoms were fully resolved for several days with no signs of COVID-19, he was cleared to return to work.
“I’m so grateful to my colleagues who helped care for my patients while I was sick, and to my patients who understood why their surgeries needed to be postponed,” he says.
A champion for social distancing
After his own COVID-19 diagnosis, Chang worries about lifting social distancing requirements too soon. He’s particularly concerned when he sees young people out and about, failing to abide by the recommendations.
“COVID-19 typically causes fewer to no symptoms in younger people,” he says. “As a result, many don’t know they have the disease. They may be walking around in public, shedding the virus unintentionally.”
Chang says he’ll never know where he picked up the coronavirus.
“I hadn’t travelled, and I wasn’t exposed to anyone who was noticeably sick,” he says. “It was just out there in public, and I was exposed without knowing it.”
Recovering and giving back after COVID-19
Even now, with all signs of the coronavirus gone, Chang is still recovering.
“I’ve always been active, and I like to run,” he says. “When I exercise now, I’m reminded that I’m not quite there yet. But I’m getting close.”
Though he knows his own illness was relatively mild compared to what others are going through, Chang is also grateful that he’s able to donate his plasma, with the hopes of helping cancer patients who are ill with COVID-19.
As he says, “Donating plasma requires very little time and effort, yet it may make a big difference to those who need it.”
Learn about donating COVID-19 convalescent plasma to MD Anderson online or by calling the MD Anderson Blood Bank at 713-745-6742.
Due to our response to COVID-19, all blood donations at MD Anderson
Blood Donor Center locations are being held by appointment only.