IMPERIAL COUNTY –  Valley residents can help save lives in their communities by donating plasma.

Those are the thoughts and hopes of local hospitals and medical professionals associated with the COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Donation Drive being held at both Imperial County local hospitals.

Convalescent Plasma (CCP) donation is a method of collecting plasma products from recovered COVID-19 patients to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients. Plasma from recovered donors – called “convalescent plasma” - may have immune-boosting antibodies that may possibly benefit patients with severe cases of COVID-19, according to a press release.

The drive – spearheaded by LifeStream Blood Bank in association with El Centro Regional Medical Center and Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District – is currently in its screening process while looking for locals who have recovered from COVID-19. Once located, the recovered patients are asked to donate plasma to help the infected with the novel virus. In order to donate, plasma donors must be referred to LifeStream and be deemed eligible.

“Essentially if we had a good turnout for the drive we would be able to collect enough product that we should be able to address all the (COVID-19) patient needs in Imperial County at this time,”  Dr. Rick Axelrod, President and CEO of LifeStream Blood Bank, said in an interview.

The dates for the plasma collections are Monday, August 3 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Pioneers and on Tuesday, August 4 at ECRMC from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. However, drive organizers are encouraging potential donors to go through the screening process immediately rather than show up on collection days without being pre-screened.

In the screening process, potential donors will need to show proof that they had previously contracted COVID-19, Dr. Axelrod said. 

“So just because somebody says that they had COVID they can't just come in to the blood drive and show up to donate; they actually have to go on our website to lstream.org/covidplasma/ and fill out a form because there is specific criteria to be met from an individual to qualify to be a convalescent plasma donor,” he said.

“The need is urgent, and we urge those who may be eligible to find out today if they qualify to donate,” LifeStream’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joe Chaffin, stated in the release.

Dr. Axelrod said the Imperial County Public Health Department contacted LifeStream – the regional blood services supplier for both local hospitals now as of July 1 – in order to try to meet the demand of enough blood supply for sick patients, as the need for plasma has outnumbered the number of donations which were being collected, said Dr. Axelrod.

“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic we have a lot of people that are sick in the hospitals and one of the things we do know is that people who had COVID-19 and recover; their plasma has antibodies,” he said.

“So that if we collect plasma from someone who has recovered from COVID-19 and transfuse it to a patient in the hospital (with COVID), then they have a good chance of improving their situation,” he said.

Dr. Axelrod said the intention is to create enough COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma product to cover the needs for both hospitals in Imperial County. He said these collections will come back to patients within Imperial County through both local hospitals.

Louise Kenney, Chief Nursing Officer at El Centro Regional Medical Center, agreed.

“That’s the intention,” she said in an interview. “We know we have a fair amount of people (in Imperial County) who could be eligible to donate the plasma. By doing so the current patients have an intervention that we can provide to lessen the severity of the disease.”

“We all know that every patient responds differently but we hope that the majority responds in the shortening of the disease progression,” she said.

Kenney said this the use of this antibody rich plasma – while not a cure for the virus – could help COVID-19 patients whether they are in emergency room hospitalization or on their way out of the hospital to quarantine at home.

“No this is not a cure, it's to help the symptoms, that's it,” she said.

“Yes, we are in a downward trend right now (at ECRMC) but we also know that in the future, the winter and whatever the flu virus of the season is, (is) always a factor,” Kenney said. “When it's now going to be combined with the coronavirus – because it’s is still here, it's not gone – another wave is expected and we want to be prepared.”

“We don't know if people are going to be re-infected who had COVID, that's one thing we all have to keep in mind,” she said, “and secondly people that did not get COVID might get COVID. So this is a way of getting ahead of the curve instead of having patients get so sick that they're hospitalized for a very lengthy time, or God forbid they die. We are trying to get ahead of the curve before they get that sick.”

Kennedy said while the convalescent plasma donation may not stop COVID-19 patients from getting the virus, staying true to the practices of “very good hand hygiene, and social distancing and staying home when we should” will ultimately also help put an end to the pandemic, as those preventive practices “will be with us for a very long time.”

On the plasma donation itself, just one extraction from a donor can collect up to 2 to 4 vials of blood, which depending on the patient’s height and weight, can assist to 2 to 4 critically ill patients, said Karina Lopez, Public Affairs Liaison for Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District.

“There are very few opportunities that we have in our lives to save somebody's life and the simple act of donating blood – or donating plasma in this case – is really powerful for any human being to be able to help save somebody else's life,” he said.

Lopez said while El Centro has some physical packets on the ECRMC Office building foyer, Brawley is doing their donor screenings exclusively online through LifeStream’s website.

Online donor information and screening can be found by visiting lstream.org/covidplasma and by calling 800-879-4484.

The physical donor protocol/donation form packets, which are available in El Centro at ECRMC in both English and Spanish, can be submitted at the resource table located in the foyer within of the ECRMC Medical Office building, the building directly behind the hospital. Representatives are available at the foyer table to aid in the screening process. The last day to submit physical forms to the resource table is Thursday, July 30 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The ECRMC Medical Office building is located at 1271 Ross Avenue in El Centro. The Medical Office is not directly connected to the other ECRMC hospital buildings.

For donors looking to screen online, once the online screening has been completed a LifeStream representative will call donors to set up a time and confirm the site and date of their plasma donation.

On August 3, the donation site for Brawley/PMH will be located in the auditorium of Pioneers Memorial Hospital, located at 207 W. Legion Road in Brawley from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Donors are encouraged to use the Women’s Center entrance and then follow the posted arrows in order to steer clear of the emergency room and other areas where patients may be.

El Centro’s COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Donation Drive donation site will be hosted inside the ECRMC Medical Office Building on August 4 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. upstairs in Conference Rooms 1 and 2. Some information is also online through ECRMC's Facebook event at facebook.com/events/325738032118929

Potential donors for both sites must be pre-screened these collection dates and referred by LifeStream before donating plasma. The referring physician/licensed healthcare provider will need to document all information on the form as well as submit copies of the test results that are applicable to the donor’s current status. The donor should also be deemed non-infectious as be symptom free for at least 14 days. The donation usually takes less than one hour. Face covering and social distancing are required.

For more information on donations contact LifeStream Blood Bank by email at covidplasma@LStream.org or by calling 909-386-6837.

Reporter

Roman has worked for multiple local news and non-profit orgs including IV Press and VW Mag, IVROP, St. JP2 Radio and is also with The Southern Cross. An El Centro native, he graduated from Marywood U in Scranton, Pennsylvania. rflores@thedesertreview.com

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