COVID-19 convalescent plasma trial going 'extremely well,' but need outweighs supply

Hospitals are short on convalescent plasma, and there’s only one place they can find it.

“We can’t purchase it; we can’t get it from anywhere except the community,” said Dr. Kirk Voelker, Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s critical care specialist. 

The plasma has been critical in the fight against COVID-19, and a huge success locally, especially at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

“That trial is going extremely well,” Voelker continued. “We’ve given probably 150 people convalescent plasma so far. We’ve had a significant impact, but we’re critically low.”

Community organizations are hoping to change that. Today, area YMCAs paired with OneBlood and Life South to host nearly two dozen additional blood drives.

“For one, the need is higher, and two, it’s harder to get the community to come out and donate blood with facilities closing,” said Candace Culver, VP of community partnerships for the YMCA. “I think the focus right now, is meeting the community needs.”

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The need was certainly met for Leigh Sherwood’s family. 

Sherwood’s father, Ralph Krause, has been hospitalized with COVID-19 since July 11. The 80-year-old received plasma treatment two days ago.

“It’s been night and day,” Sherwood said. “Immediately from receiving the plasma therapy, his oxygen scores were at an 89, and literally within hours, they increased to a 93 or 94. And it was solely due, we believe, to this plasma therapy.”

The way it works is pretty simple: When you survive coronavirus, your immune system produces antibodies in your bloodstream – those are transfused into patients like Ralph.

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“People who have had COVID at least three weeks ago can donate their blood, and every person who donates can save up to four lives,” said Dr. Voelker.

For some, it can be the life-saving treatment that makes the difference. 

“Definitely take advantage of it,” Sherwood encouraged. “It is experimental, but we have seen tremendous success; almost immediately, within hours for my father. It is going to be the difference between life or death for him.”