POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Eight COVID-19 patients at Lakeland Regional Health have been given one unit of convalescent plasma as part of a nationwide Mayo Clinic trial to learn whether transfusions can treat coronavirus.

Several hospitals in Tampa Bay are participating in the expanded access program.

The plasma is donated through OneBlood by people who recovered from COVID-19.

“It is based on the theory that people who have recovered from the infection developed antibodies to help them clear the infection,” said Dr. Mathew Vadaparampil, Lakeland Regional Health ICU Medical Director.

The hope is those antibodies can be passed along to infected patients.

“The plasma is good for a year once it’s donated so we just need everybody just to donate if they’re positive so that we can have their pool so anyone who needs it, we have plasma readily available,” said Rebecca Rich, critical care clinical pharmacy specialist at Lakeland Regional Health.

Critical patients are eligible for the transfusion.

“Are they having a severe infection or a life threatening infection? If they have low oxygen levels, changes on their x-ray, then it potentially identifies them as being candidates for the plasma,” said Dr. Vadaparampil.

Christine Caron-Juarez, 56, and Eduardo Juarez, 52, of Lakeland, suffered for weeks with COVID-19.

“It’s the sickest I’ve ever been,” said Eduardo Juarez. “I couldn’t catch my breathe. The cough attacks would come. There were a couple of times where it got real bleak.”

Christine Caron-Juarez and Eduardo Juarez
Courtesy: Lakeland Regional Health

They checked in to Lakeland Regional Health on May 16.

A few days later, they both received a plasma transfusion.

For that, they are grateful. Eduardo Juarez called it a “God send.”

“We can’t wait to have the opportunity to donate our blood. Yeah, we want to pay it forward. We want to find out how we can now donate our blood,” they said.

Courtesy: Deanna Bayless

Lakeland’s Deanna Bayless thought the same thing.

She suffered several days with a fever of 102 plus degrees and extreme fatigue in March.

She got sick days after returning from a conference in Las Vegas with her husband.

After recovering, she learned she could help infected patients by donating her plasma.

“It’s brought people together that you don’t really see. And this is a way you can give,” she said. “If we have enough plasma donors to build up the supply, when this second wave comes in I really think that we will have a stockpile of ammunition against it.”

OneBlood is automatically checking blood donors for antibodies.

To learn more, visit https://www.oneblood.org/lp/covid-19-convalescent-plasma.stml