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Hospitals participate in experimental blood plasma treatments

Lehigh Valley Health Network and St. Luke’s University Health Network have both begun using blood plasma in the experimental treatment of COVID-19.

Brian Downs, a spokesman for LVHN, said the program is being offered to patients with moderate or severe COVID-19 infection. So far, 26 patients or their families have consented to join the program. The results have been mixed. Some patients have benefited from the treatment, while others have gotten worse.

“It’s still critical that previous COVID patients donate their plasma,” Downs said, because there are more patients waiting to participate, but not enough plasma.

The programs are permitted by the Food and Drug Administration, and both are being overseen by the Mayo Clinic in Cleveland. They are considered to be investigational treatments, because clinical studies have started but have not been completed.

“At the present time, no medications have been proven to treat this illness,” said Dr. Timothy Friel, chair of the Department of Medicine with Lehigh Valley Health Network. “We are eager to offer any potential interventions like convalescent plasma that might make a difference for our critically ill COVID-19 patients. The only way we can continue to offer this option to patients and gather the data to determine if this treatment works is for people to donate plasma.”

At St. Luke’s, Samuel Kennedy, a spokesman for the hospital, said didn’t say how many patients are enrolled, but he did say they have had a success story.

One of their patients who had been on a ventilator at the Warren Campus in New Jersey was able to be taken off the machine following treatments with blood plasma, and is now on the road to recovery.

Dr. Peter Ender, the infectious disease section chief at St. Luke’s, said the hospital’s “participation in this blood plasma trial will help advance the medical community’s understanding of how best to treat COVID-19 patients.”

Plasma, which is the liquid part of the blood, cannot be manufactured by a pharmaceutical company. But not all plasma will help patients suffering from COVID-19. Only plasma from people who have recovered from the disease will help.

The reason is that when a person contracts a virus, their immune system creates antibodies to fight the virus. The medical community thinks this also occurs with COVID-19, so people who have recovered from it may have immune-boosting antibodies in their plasma. This is called convalescent plasma.

These antibodies may be able to boost the immune system of a sick patient and may help speed the recovery process.

“In order for the convalescent plasma program to be successful and allow us to help the greatest number of patients, we really need the help of all of our recovered patients,” said Dr. Eric Tesoriero, an anesthesiologist at St. Luke’s.

A recovered patient can donate plasma 28 days after their symptoms have resolved or 14 days if they receive a negative COVID-19 test. All patients interested in donations will have the same screening performed on all blood product donors.

Donating is easy, just contact one of these sites:

• Miller-Keystone Blood Center at www.giveapint.org or 800-B-A-DONOR (800-223-6667)

• Liz Nivar at St. Luke’s Pulmonary and Critical Care Associates at 484-503-0350.

• MyLVHN Nurse Line at 888-402-LVHN (5846)

• Red Cross Donation Center at RedCrossBlood.org.