Coronavirus: SoCal COVID-19 survivor donates his plasma to OC patient in critical need

ORANGE, Calif. (KABC) -- An Orange County hospital has become the first on the West Coast to try an experimental treatment for COVID-19 as a patient in serious condition just received a plasma transfusion from a man who recently recovered. If it works, it could offer hope as the potentially deadly infection wreaks havoc worldwide.

Inside St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, a critically ill coronavirus patient waits to see if an trial treatment will help him recover.

"It''s really there for those patients that are severely affected or whose life is threatened by the virus," said Wendy Escobedo, RN, the nursing director for Dialysis and Kidney Transplants.

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The procedure, called convalescent plasma therapy, looks like a blood transfusion, but it's plasma from a recovered patient.

"Plasma is the yellowish liquid component of the blood and it carries really important cells and proteins," Escobedo said.

The proteins contain antibodies that helped 36-year-old Jason Garcia, a new father and Escondido resident, beat COVID-19 in mid-March.

"It was kind of like a cold maybe with a shortness of breath," he said. "A mild-like bronchitis coming on. Everything was kind of short-lived."

He posted his story of recovery, which caught the attention of researchers at St. Joseph Hospital. Garcia has been symptom free for 14 days, which made him eligible to donate plasma.
"It's a little bit more involved than donating blood, but it's very similar," he said. "I've donated blood before. If you're comfortable donating blood, this just takes a little longer sitting in the chair."

Although experimental, Escobedo said convalescent plasma therapy was first used in the 1890s to treat diphtheria. The treatment was used again during the Spanish Flu and later to treat SARS and H1N1.

"It is one of those treatments that we could do now for those patients who don't have the luxury of time," she said.

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Within a few weeks, Escobedo and her colleagues will know how well the treatment works against coronavirus. But, she believes donors like Garcia will be the true heroes of this pandemic.

"I feel awesome that you can know something positive came out of this, and I'm able to help others and potentially save lives," Garcia said.

One donation can help three patients.

The FDA announced it wants to gather plasma from those who've recovered. Now, the American Red Cross is working with the FDA to help screen, identify and collect plasma from those who have survived coronavirus.

The Red Cross established RedCrossBlood.org/plasma4covid to help collect prospective donor information. The Red Cross will then follow-up with prospective candidates to confirm eligibility and participation.

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