My Experience Donating Convalescent Plasma for COVID-19 Patients
I thought my headache was from the jetlag. Just 24 hours earlier I had returned to the US from Sweden where I was studying abroad.
The first symptom I experienced was a headache, unlike anything I had ever experienced. Then the body aches that kept me in bed for days started just before I spiked a fever and started coughing. At that point, there was so much unknown about the virus that I was never tested.
In July I donated blood with the American Red Cross and my COVID-19 antibody test came back positive.
I KNEW IT!
This information confirmed what I already assumed to be true, I had COVID-19 in March. Whether I contracted in Sweden or while traveling home in a rush to beat the start of Trump’s travel ban, I don’t think I’ll ever know.
Having the antibodies and being in good health qualifies me to donate convalescent plasma.
What is Convalescent Plasma Donation?
According to the American Red Cross, plasma is the liquid portion of your blood. It helps with clotting and supports immunity. It contains antibodies that fight off infections, so those who have recovered from this new coronavirus will have antibodies in their blood plasma that help protect them against future infections.
During a plasma donation, blood is drawn from an arm and sent through a high-tech machine that collects your plasma and then safely and comfortably returns your red cells back to you, along with some saline.
The Donation Process
Every other weekend I drive to the Red Cross Donation Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota to donate. In total, the process takes about two hours from the time I check-in to when I’m out the door after resting and having a snack.
There are American Red Cross donation sites all over the US, find yours here.
Most convalescent plasma donors can donate every seven days but with my slightly lower than normal iron levels. So, I donate every two weeks to give my body a chance to fully recover.
Lately, there have been temperature checks before and after checking-in. With every donation, you must go through a screening to confirm your eligibility on the day of your donation. This process involves answering questions about your medical history, recent travel history, and a finger stick to determine your hemoglobin levels.
I have been deferred from donating a few times due to low hemoglobin (iron) levels. While I’m not able to donate on those specific days, I usually sign up to donate again a week or so after. To help with my low hemoglobin levels I take a multivitamin daily and try to eat a balanced diet.
The donation process differs from regular blood donation because I use both arms. In one arm the blood is drawn and pumped into a machine that separates the plasma and platelets from the blood. Then the blood is pumped back into my other arm with some saline to keep me hydrated.
It takes about an hour and a half in total. During that time, since I have to keep both arms still, I am able to watch Netflix which makes the time fly by.
Why I Donate Blood / Platelets / Convalescent Plasma
The first time I donated blood was a few days after my 17th birthday when I became eligible. Since then I have donated as often as possible when I was in the US (I have spent most of the last three years abroad for university).
In June 2016 a gunman killed 49 people at an LGBTQ bar in Orlando, Florida. This happened at a time in my life when I was coming to terms with my queer identity and this attack was both terrifying and a call to action.
On the news, I saw footage of people lined up outside of hospitals to donate blood to help save the lives of people that were injured in the attack.
Many of these people were turned away because FDA regulations at the time banned any person from donating blood products if they had slept with a man that had ever slept with another man. While these outdated blood policies keeping many LGBTQ people from donating have changed, there are still many restrictions which exist.
I wanted to help my community however I could. So, I donated blood.
Approximately, every 56 days I donate blood and every 14 days I donate platelets or convalsecent plasma.
There is always a blood/plasma/platelets shortage. If every elgibile person in the United States donated just once per year, we could change this.
If you are able, I encourage you to consider donating blood to help save lives in your community. Visit American Red Cross to learn more.
Coming soon: Paid vs. Unpaid Blood Product Donation.