Severe COVID-19 patients are having to wait for plasma therapy because there's not enough donors

NOW: Severe COVID-19 patients are having to wait for plasma therapy because there’s not enough donors

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) - The continued increase in cases and hospitalizations means greater need for treatments like plasma therapy, but there’s just not enough to keep up with the demand. Convalescent plasma therapy is used to help patients who develop severe disease from COVID-19.

Versiti Blood Centers says the need for plasma has gone from bad to worse in just a matter of 24 hours, it’s getting to the point where severe COVID-19 patients are now having to wait to receive therapy.

We had been sending out in Wisconsin as many as 200 units of plasma in a week, last week we almost hit 600,” said Dr. Dan Waxman, Vice President and Senior Medical Director, Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin.

Dr. Waxman says they’re looking for plasma donors who have had COVID-19 in the past and have developed antibodies.

“We really need to increase the number of our donations to meet the patient need,” he said.

Versiti Blood Centers say plasma is being shipped to local hospitals three times faster than it’s coming in, they’re asking people who have donated COVID convalescent plasma to donate again.

You know through either metropolitan Milwaukee or beyond we’re seeing an uptick in usage throughout our whole service area,” adds Dr. Waxman.

They say anyone who comes in to donate blood, which is also in critical need will be given a free COVID-19 antibody test. Dr. Waxman says the tests are extremely accurate because they go through two laboratories.

“We’re finding donors every day, some of which who never knew they had COVID,” he says.

Isaac Quella was one of them.

“It did feel good knowing that I had a lesser chance of getting it and also giving it as well,” said Quella, who tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies after donating blood.

Quella donated blood to a community blood center in the Fox Valley.  He did it because his fiancée works as a nurse on a hospital COVID floor and wanted to see if he ever developed antibodies.

I knew it was a good thing to do anyways to give my blood,” Quella says.

“In doing this we’re trying to identify people who have these antibodies so we can have them be a plasma donor -and then these plasma donations can be used for patients right in Wisconsin hospitals,” said Dr. Waxman.

Quella says he never had symptoms, so he doesn’t know when he had COVID-19.

“I’m usually a pretty healthy guy but usually I also know when I get sick, and I haven’t felt sick in months,” said Quella.

Looking back Quella is thankful to have followed masking and distancing practices, and recommends being a donor.  

“If you’re okay with giving blood go give blood and see if you have the antibodies because it is good to know that’s for sure, and then you can also give plasma and save some more lives as well,” he adds.

Dr. Waxman wants to remind people that donating blood and plasma is safe, equipment is sanitized after every donor and everyone is masked and following distancing practices during the process. Donors can give plasma every week up to 12 times.

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