FAIRFIELD, NJ - The Red Cross is spearheading a regional effort to help hospitals give lifesaving plasma treatment for COVID-19.  New Providence resident and rising senior at University of Notre Dame, Rebecca Pappas recently donated plasma at the Red Cross donation facility in Fairfield, NJ.

Pappas had tested positive for the virus in mid-March and recently tested positive for having the antibodies. She decided to donate her plasma and made the appointment for May 11th, not realizing that she would be one of the first donors at that Red Cross location. “The blood donation process was relatively straightforward,” said Pappas. “As soon as I got my positive antibody results back, I filled out the plasma donor questionnaire on the American Red Cross’ website. About four days later, a representative from the Red Cross called me and asked more screening questions to confirm my eligibility to donate. This took about 10 minutes. To conclude the phone call, the representative asked me to choose from a set of appointment dates over the next couple weeks,”.

Once Pappas arrived at the donation site she rang the doorbell and a nurse escorted her to a private room where another nurse checked her in and asked additional screening questions and checked her hemoglobin levels. Pappas said that the nurse did, “all the pre-screening that would be necessary for a classic blood donation.”  He also walked her through what the plasma donation process would look and feel like and potential side effects.

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 Following the screening process, Pappas was brought to a medical chair that she would sit in while she gave her life saving plasma. The nurse cleaned the surface of her arm, found a blood vessel and gave her a three-second countdown to when he would inject the needle. Once inserted, the Alyx machine began the process of pumping blood, Pappas was linked up to the machine for an hour and 15 minutes total. The whole process, including pre-screening and post-donation, took a few hours. “The donation felt a bit different from a classic blood donation due to the nature of a plasma donation. During a plasma donation, blood is taken out of the body, the plasma is separated from the blood, and then the blood is pumped back into the body. A classic blood donation only includes the initial extraction of blood but does not entail the re-pumping of blood back into the body. It was about as painful as donating blood, and by painful, I mean slightly uncomfortable, but completely tolerable for someone with a moderate pain tolerance,” explained Pappas.        

According to the FDA, “It is not currently known if convalescent plasma will be an effective treatment against COVID-19.” Since there are no known effective treatments for the virus, multiple options are under investigation by the scientific community. Some information suggests that convalescent plasma could help some coronavirus patients – especially those who are seriously ill.

According to the Red Cross as many as three critically ill patients can be treated with one donor’s plasma and while the need for convalescent plasma is immediate, it can be stored for up to a year.  Eligible donors may also give plasma every 28 days. 

“I am glad that I was able to do something like this and that it is going to have a real impact on other people. It feels good,” said Pappas. “To those who are eligible to donate and are considering, I would encourage you to do so because it is a relatively simple and painless process and you could help save up to three lives. Aside from helping the critically ill, antibody-rich plasma could aid the research being done on COVID-19”.   

To find out if you qualify to donate convalescent plasma visit: redcrossblood.org/plasma4covid