The doctors gave Greg Beaudoin two doses of convalescent plasma. The first dose, he said, did nothing. The second saved his life.
Greg Beaudoin spent a career helping patients on ventilators, until last March, when he became one.
“I was taking care of my patients as a respiratory therapist,” said Beaudoin. “There were no masks available; there just wasn’t [sic]. I got it from patients that I was seeing that day. “
For 54 days, Greg was sedated and unconscious. A fan now breathing for him. He had double pneumonia, several surgeries and two strokes affecting his vision and cognitive function.
“My children cried a lot. They heard messages ‘They don’t think he will be with us the next morning,’ ”said Beaudoin.
As a last resort, doctors gave him two doses of convalescent plasma, which is a portion of the blood of someone who survived COVID and has antibodies to the virus. The first dose, he said, did nothing. The second saved his life.
“It was absolutely a miracle,” said Sue Beaudoin, Greg’s wife.
He left the ICU in June, to the applause of the M Health Fairview Bethesda Hospital team, and arrived home in July. Thanks, Greg says, to someone else’s blood.
“I think for anyone who has given or is thinking of giving, you are allowing someone else to be in a position where your body can fight for it and survive and get through it,” said Greg.
For a time, convalescent plasma was a somewhat mysterious treatment. It worked for some patients and did nothing for others. Experts now know that high-tier plasma – or high levels of antibodies – has proved most effective.
A new Mayo Clinic study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine helps answer questions by showing that plasma with higher antibody levels saved lives better than lower antibody plasma (low titer) or medium titer plasma . The research found that the treatment is much more effective in patients who do not use ventilators.
“We think it offers evidence that it can reduce mortality in the right patients, those who are not on a ventilator and those early in the hospital period,” said Dr. Scott Wright, cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic and coauthor of the study.
Wright says his and other research led the FDA to change its authorization for emergency use of convalescent plasma this month, suggesting that only the highest antibody plasma be used in patients early in their illness.
And this change, according to the Memorial Blood Centers, will create a void in the supply of convalescent plasma, since only plasma with the highest levels of antibodies can be used.
So I went to the Memorial Blood Centers in Plymouth to see how the process of donating convalescent plasma works during a pandemic and to find out how much they needed the supply.
I tested positive for COVID-19 in November and recovered weeks later.
It wasn’t very clear to me until this story that inside my body and the bodies of 26 million other Americans and 450,000 Minnesota residents who survived COVID-19 is a potentially very powerful treatment for other people struggling with the disease.
Here are the qualifications for convalescent plasma donors:
- Be at least 17 years old and weigh at least 110 pounds.
- In good health, feel good
- Pass a pre-screening questionnaire on health and travel history
- Have a previous diagnosis of COVID-19 and now you have no symptoms.
I passed a pre-screening questionnaire and a finger prick blood test to check the COVID-19 antibodies.
So, I sat socially away with a mask for about 45 minutes donating blood, which was divided into red blood cells and plasma rich in antibodies. The red blood cells were put back in my body intermittently.
“We used to donate blood in schools, churches and businesses,” said Dr. Jed Gorlin, medical director of Memorial Blood Centers. “We cannot use our buses. There is no way to be two meters away on a bus. And so, we had much less capacity to enter the community. We need people like you to enter our different sites. “
The pandemic has paralyzed many industries; blood donation is no exception.
An MBC spokesman said his blood donations dropped 50% last year, when all community campaigns stopped.
Funding from the federal Operation Warp Speed mission helped blood banks recruit and test convalescent plasma donors, but demand for this treatment has outstripped supply.
“It is a win-win situation to donate blood after you recover, because your blood can be used to help other human beings prolong their lives and reduce suffering,” said Dr. Wright.