Local COVID-19 Survivors Encourage Plasma Donation

Local COVID-19 Survivors Encourage Plasma Donation

Community leaders Alan and Patty Russell raise awareness after recovery

Debabrata Mukherjee, M.D., MS
Debabrata Mukherjee, M.D., MS

Fear of the unknown can make what seems like an insignificant decision turn into an arduous undertaking. The COVID-19 pandemic has been stress-inducing to the collective consciousness of the world, not only because of fear of infection, but fear of what could come next.

For Alan and Patty Russell, community leaders and local supporters of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso, a positive result from an antibody test for COVID-19 supplied assurance rather than fear.

“We were relieved to know that we had the virus,” Patty said. They were fortunate – the Russells contracted what seemed like a terrible case of the flu in February and recovered. It was not the flu, but COVID-19; however, they came out of the experience relatively unscathed.

What came next for the Russells was an unknown experience: the donation of plasma. Recently, Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso urged individuals who have fully recovered from COVID-19 to donate convalescent plasma, which can boost the ability of patients with severe cases to fight the virus.

The Russells had not donated blood or plasma in the past and had many questions.

Would it hurt? Would there be side effects? Would it be a long process?

In a search of answers, the Russells contacted TTUHSC El Paso. Debabrata Mukherjee, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Internal Medicine, helped by walking the couple through the process of donating plasma. This included completing the donor-evaluation physician information after reviewing their antibody test, then answering their questions regarding the importance of donating plasma. The entire process was completed electronically.

“Since there is no proven effective therapy for COVID-19, convalescent plasma may make a difference between survival or mortality in severely ill patients,” Dr. Mukherjee said. “Convalescent plasma remains in short supply and donations would help to treat more patients admitted to hospitals in our community.”

After help from Dr. Mukherjee, the donation was then processed and administered by Vitalant, one of the blood service providers available to El Pasoans.

“Donating plasma was truly a nonevent. It took about an hour in the chair,” Patty said of her first experience donating. “During the process, they give you your own red blood cells back; it is different than donating blood alone. It did not hurt, and the staff at the Vitalant blood bank were so professional that it was calming. When we left their facility, we virtually had no side effects.”

Patty sees donating plasma as a way to help the communities she and her husband love – El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.

“The use of plasma by researchers is critical. We have personally lost friends to the virus, which brings it closer to home for us,” she said. “If everyone who has recovered from the virus in the El Paso region would donate their plasma, we could maybe save the lives of people in a vulnerable state.  I dream of even being able to help our friends across the border in Juárez.”

  • Currently, Vitalant is seeking convalescent plasma donors to help patients. Eligibility criteria are:
    • Prior diagnosis of COVID-19, documented by a laboratory test.
    • Complete resolution of symptoms for at least 14 days.
    • Meet all other current U.S. Food and Drug Administration donor eligibility requirements to donate plasma.

The Russells and Dr. Mukherjee want to encourage local COVID-19 survivors to donate plasma, as it will help others in the region.

“With the help of TTUHSC El Paso in spreading the word, we are certain more people will come forward to donate!” the Russells said.

Those who meet the criteria and want to donate plasma are encouraged to apply through the Vitalant website at vitalant.org/covidfree. For more information, please call 866-CV-PLSMA (866-287-5762).