EDINBURG, Texas (KVEO) – Millions of Americans have been infected with COVID-19, including KVEO anchor Clara Benitez.
Clara’s case was mild, but for more than 3,000 people in the Rio Grande Valley, the virus has been deadly.
RGV hospitals reached capacity in the summer and had to fly patients to other parts of the state.
The only treatment doctors say is helping people fight the virus is antibodies from recovered COVID-19 patients.
Donating plasma is similar to donating blood, instead you keep your red blood cells.
“That machine automatically separates liquid portion from the cell portion, the liquid portion is then collected and then infused into the patient,” said Dr. Sohail Rao, President and Chief Executive Officer of DHR Health Institute for Research & Development.
Plasma infusion has been one of the most beneficial treatment options currently available for those fighting the deadly virus.
DHR has infused over 2,100 patients with plasma since April and in this week 56 units of plasma have been infused.
Dr. Rao, says they have been working on a RGV collaborative between 11 hospitals and 89 physicians since April to keep the most vulnerable Valley population alive.
“They have diabetes, hypertension, obesity, you name it, so when they come into the hospital they come as very sick patients,” said Dr. Rao.
Severely ill COVID-19 patients cannot develop antibodies on their own because their immune system is already suppressed.
That’s why they need antibodies from a recovered COVID-19 patient, like Benitez.
Her experience with donating plasma was fast and easy.
DHR scheduled the appointment with Vitalant the next day.
Once there, she answered some questions and got her vitals and iron level checked to make sure she was able to donate.
All the phlebotomists were great and very attentive.
The needle poke, which terrified Clara, actually did not hurt, according to Benitez. The entire donation took about 45 minutes.
According to Dr. Rao, patients need to receive the plasma infusions early on during their diagnosis.
“When you give it late which was initially mandated by FDA the effect was not that dramatic as it is – as when you give it early,” said Dr. Rao.
Right now, the FDA is working to approve a more concentrated version of plasma antibodies, which is what President Trump received during his COVID-19 infection.
“What he got was antibodies, which are purified antibodies from plasma and we are right now looking at FDA about to give an emergency use of authorization for the use of antibodies in patients who have covid-19.”
Dr. Roa says until a vaccine is made available, plasma is the only way we can treat the virus.
“It is affecting our fathers our mothers, our grandparents and that is actually more troubling because the mortality and morbidity of that group of patients is extremely high.”
The FDA emergency approval for purified antibodies is scheduled to happen by the end of this month.
Looking to donate plasma? Click here or call (956)215-3166