By Stephanie Motter

While many COVID-19 survivors are describing it as an experience they would never wish on anyone, they now have the ability to help other COVID victims by donating their blood plasma. If you’ve been following national news, it’s very likely you’ve seen the emerging work supported by the FDA to treat severely infected patients with blood plasma, more formally referred to as Convalescent Plasma Therapy or “CP Therapy”.

Immunology is an incredible science, and I won’t pretend to be an expert in it, but I can tell you at a very high level why plasma therapy is currently being explored. With no known vaccine or approved treatment for COVID-19, this century-old method of separating red blood cells from blood plasma proteins rich with antibodies seems to be the most effective method to fight the epidemic. By giving a patient an antibody rich plasma infusion, we are giving them an immune system boost known as passive immunity to aid their body as they try to fight off the disease

CP Therapy has been used in recent years to help patients during the SARS, H1N1, and the MERS epidemics. The silver lining in our fight against COVID-19 is there is growing science behind its effectiveness aiding critically ill patients whose bodies need extra help to recover.

And now, we are using this incredible science in Western Colorado because St. Mary’s is participating in research supported by the Mayo Clinic through the Colorado COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project Consortium. This consortium is the first in the United States to collect and deliver COVID-19 positive plasma to critically-ill patients. St. Mary’s Regional Blood Center just began accepting  COVID-positive patient plasma donations in hopes to effectively treat patients in our state. Their first donation was received on April 17 and more continue to follow.

A COVID-positive patient refers to someone who has had Coronavirus and has recovered. Because the St. Mary’s Regional Blood Center is accepting COVID-positive plasma, it means that people who have beaten the virus can give back by donating their plasma. They can help their friends, families, and neighbors. While it won’t give critically ill recipients long-term immunity, it may give them the boost they need to fight through it and hopefully, survive.

St. Mary’s Regional Blood Center is in a unique position to supply this critical product to those who need it because they already collect plasma from donors and are the primary blood supplier for Western Colorado and Eastern Utah. Convalescent plasma donors must have a positive test result documenting their original infection with coronavirus.  By adding a simple, additional screening process for donors that have been symptom-free for at least 14-days, which includes a swab test, they will ensure the donor is no longer positive for the disease and safe to donate. If the donor is 28 days or longer post-symptoms, no swab is needed.  The donor also needs to meet all standard qualifications for blood donations.

After the green light is given and donor eligibility is confirmed by the medical screeners, a willing donor needs to call to schedule their appointment with St. Mary’s Regional Blood Center. “From the time the plasma is collected, we can deliver it to a patient in as little as two days,” states Jennifer Rhamy, the Director of St. Mary’s Regional Blood Center. “And unlike red blood cell donations, which are only good for 42 days, plasma is good for up to 12 months because it is kept frozen.”

This lengthened shelf-life means that even though Colorado has not seen a peak in the pandemic, we can fight it a year from now with plasma donated today. “And if there’s an excess in donations and it’s not needed in Western Colorado, we can honor the need statewide. And if we have excess supply statewide, then we can help nationally,” Rhamy continues. “It’s our stewardship mission: To maximize use of this precious resource by always looking for and filling the need.”

If you want to give plasma to help advance this important work and have had a confirmed positive test for coronavirus, please contact 303.813.5230 or email convalescentplasma@sclhealth.org before setting up an appointment with our local blood center as the donation must be medically approved first.

Director Rhamy, the team at the St. Mary’s Regional Blood Center, and our providers on the front lines remind me how fortunate we are to have a level 2 regional medical center in this community serving our region.

In addition to that, I am constantly amazed by the giving spirit that embodies Western Coloradans. When there is a need, our community steps up to meet it. Although the blood bank has not been able to send out the bloodmobile for over a month now due to social distancing restrictions, and they have only been able to accept donations from Mesa County residents, they have had enough blood to supply the 19 hospitals and residents they serve in Western Colorado and Eastern Utah. That is a remarkable testament. The need is constant, however, and the center encourages donors to call 970-298-2555 to schedule an appointment for a whole blood donation.

Let’s keep #DoingOurPartColorado in the fight against COVID-19. After all, we’re all in this together, and I trust we’ll come out more resilient because of our giving spirit.

 Stephanie Motter is the Chief Executive Officer of Monument Health. Before joining Monument Health, Motter served as Vice President of Quality & Clinical Strategy at DaVita. Previously, she worked as a nurse practitioner in the Denver and Boston areas. She received her bachelor of arts in economics from Smith College and her masters of science degree in nursing from Yale University.