Kaweah Delta joins Mayo Clinic, others in study to help COVID-19 patients

A Press Release from Kaweah Delta

Kaweah Delta has joined the Mayo Clinic and hospitals across the country in a study that is working to determine whether plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 can effectively help others recover from the virus.

As part of the uscovidplasma.org study, a small number of COVID-19 patients at Kaweah Delta have received blood plasma, rich with antibodies to fight the illness, donated by those who have recovered from the disease. Kaweah Delta has partnered with the Central California Blood Bank and other hospitals around the area to collect blood plasma. While Kaweah Delta works to inform recovered employees about the donation opportunity, public health nurses are following up with recovered patients to let them know, too. Each donation produces enough plasma for 3-4 doses, and the plasma is free thanks to Kaweah Delta’s participation in the Mayo Clinic study.

“This is a chance to help everyone in the community, especially those in vulnerable areas, but we can’t give plasma if people do not donate,” said Chris Patty, Kaweah Delta’s Director of Research, noting that to encourage Kaweah Delta employees to donate, Kaweah Delta pays them for their time and mileage to go to the donation center in Fresno. “We’ve long known that viral infections lead to our bodies producing antibodies that can keep us from being infected again. Ideally, we can take those antibodies from one person and use them to help another person. This treatment has worked for diseases like Ebola, so it was natural to try it for COVID-19.”

So far, not many have been able to donate, as requirements are strict. For example, the donor must have been free of symptoms for at least 28 days, or have a negative test and have been free of symptoms for 14-27 days. Another requirement is that the donor be male or never have been pregnant, said Patty Havard, a Kaweah Delta Research Development Specialist. “Women who have been pregnant have Human Leukocyte Antigens in their blood that can cause adverse reactions in those receiving the transfusion,” Havard said.

Dr. Benfie Liu, a resident physician at Kaweah Delta, is among the first of those who have been able to donate plasma. She has been on the front-lines of this pandemic.

“I had COVID-19, so I definitely understand how scary it is and yet I’m supposed to be the one who knows everything about viruses and medical knowledge in general,” she said. “But, there’s a lot we still don’t know about this virus, so we’re also learning day-by-day.”

After finding out she contracted the virus, Dr. Liu was overwhelmed by the immense community support she received. “A lot of people, family, friends, the people at Kaweah Delta and from the residency program, really stepped up. They helped us get groceries, checked in on us every day to make sure that we were okay. I think the worst part was the fear,” she said.

But fear didn’t stop Dr. Liu. The love she felt during this time of isolation reminded her why she does what she does for a living. Now, she’s fully recovered and back to work, helping others fight and beat COVID-19. In her effort to do so, she decided to donate her plasma. She says her plasma donation experience was pleasant.

“The whole time I felt very supported; I didn’t feel scared at all. They were very comforting,” she said.

“The inter-institutional agreement between KD, the blood center and other hospitals makes it easier for KD patients to get this treatment, too,” Patty said. “A doctor signs up the patient, the system lets Fresno know we need it, and we get it delivered.”

There is not enough data yet to know how well patients are responding to the plasma. Havard said that anecdotally, patients that receive the plasma have shown a decrease in days on a ventilator and a decrease in drugs used to treat COVID-19. It’s not yet known whether COVID-19 plasma therapy received by the patient will prevent future SARS-COV-2 infection.

According to Dr. Lori Winston, an emergency department physician and Kaweah Delta’s Vice President of Medical Education, two patients who were treated with plasma infusions turned around after the treatment. They had been getting sicker, she said, but soon were well enough to be discharged.

“The truth about viruses is, medications don’t work very well against them,” Dr. Winston said. “Vaccinations are your best option, but if you don’t have that, this is the next best option.”

All of Kaweah Delta’s data along with data from across the country is being put into a database as part of the study, which will eventually reveal results that show the optimum time for treatment and which patients get the most benefit. The study prompts doctors to upload clinical data on their patients undergoing the treatment on a regular basis, so eventually trends will appear and more will be known about the best ways to treat COVID-19 patients. Eventually, the data will be published in an evidence based medical journal.

If you meet the requirements and would like to donate for the project, sign up at www.donateblood.org/convalescent-plasma.

Kaweah Delta shares COVID-19 information and regular updates with the community on its website at www.kaweahdelta.org/COVID19 and on its social media accounts.

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