Dr. Brandy Ricard

Dr. Brandy Ricard

As more East Texas hospitals are using convalescent plasma therapy to treat COVID-19 patients – and as the number of COVID-19 cases soars – Carter Blood Care and other Anderson County providers are urgently seeking help from local donors. They are asking persons with COVID antibodies to donate plasma to reduce the virus’ effects and possibly prevent patient deaths.

Although Anderson County has a population of less than 60,000, the number of cases has risen higher than 2,000 cases and four deaths, according to the COVID-19 case dashboard on the Texas Department of State Health Services website.

Plasma donations are needed from persons with COVID antibodies, such as those who recovered from COVID-19 and are now symptom-free, and other asymptomatic persons who tested positive 14 or more days ago. Plasma contains antibodies that boost the body’s immune system and destroy viruses. A donor can give plasma again after 14 days, and every donation provides treatments for up to three patients.

In COVID convalescent plasma therapy, a critically-ill COVID-19 patient receives one or more doses of plasma with COVID antibodies intravenously. Though the therapy does not cure patients completely, treatments are showing signs of reducing severe respiratory damage.

Carter announced 40 plasma donations are needed to provide CCP to East Texas patients. The shortage is so critical that Carter is transporting plasma from regions where COVID infections have subsided, such as New York, said Linda Goelzer, a Carter Blood Care spokesperson.

Healthcare providers say timing of CCP is critical in treating COVID patients successfully, and is needed within 24 hours, but local patients are waiting an additional four to six days due to low supplies.

“The sooner we are able to administer, the better the outcomes are predicted to be,” said Dr. Brandy Ricard of Christus Health System and Palestine Regional Medical Center. “With the recent surge of SARS CoV-2, we here in Palestine, as well as surrounding areas, are experiencing a significant delay in obtaining and delivering convalescent plasma. Please step up and help your neighbor with this difficult battle.”

Carter is asking persons with COVID who are recovered and asymptomatic to register online at www.carterbloodcare.org. The nonprofit is screening potential donors then contacting them directly to set up an appointment for plasma donation. Donations can only be made through invitation.

The blood care agency is sending specially-equipped buses to travel to prearranged locations. Convalescent plasma donors must also meet eligibility requirements for regular blood donations.

A Mayo Clinic study conducted April 3 to June 11 confirms the safety of administrations of convalescent plasma therapy from recovered COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Megan Devine, a pulmonologist and assistant professor with the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler and UT Health East Texas, collaborated in a study of more than 20,000 patients.

“These data show with good evidence that giving convalescent plasma is safe,” Dr. Devine said. “It also suggests that giving plasma earlier is more beneficial.”

Carter is the primary blood care agency in North and East Texas. Testing for COVID-19 antibodies in all whole blood donations began last month. Antibody testing allows the blood care agency to separate blood products according to patient need and inform donors of possible infection.

Carter encourages patients to continue donating whole blood products at local blood drives. Tractor Supply in Palestine hosts a recurring blood drive every other Monday, with the next drive set for Aug. 3.

Goelzer told the Herald-Press that the public’s heightened interest in antibody testing is drawing more blood donors this month, but the tests are not always reliable.

“Our medical directors are saying the antibody test may not be reliable,” Goelzer said. But it is an indication that a [donor] should seek further care. “We're telling people, ‘Get your results and talk to your doctor about what to do next.’ Leave the interpretation up to someone else.”

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