After enduring a bout with COVID-19 in July, Rebecca Fenton, DNP, MSN, RN, an assistant professor/clinical in the School of Nursing, knew there was some unfinished business between her and the novel coronavirus.
“It’s because of what I do. I’m a nurse, first of all,” said Dr. Fenton. “And I thought to myself, if I was fortunate enough, blessed enough, to have survived this, I know that my plasma can help five people each time I donate. And they’re giving it to critical patients, with good outcomes. As long as my antibodies are high and I’m healthy, I’m going to give as much as I can.”
Convalescent plasma as a treatment dates back to the 1918 so-called Spanish flu pandemic, and has been used more recently on Ebola, SARS, and MERS patients.
Basically, plasma from individuals who have been infected with a virus and recovered contains antibodies that are protective of that individual. And if you transfuse that plasma into an acutely ill patient who hasn’t made their own antibodies, the hope is that the antibodies will help that patient recover faster.
Early in July, said Dr. Fenton, she lost her sense of taste and smell, one of the “cardinal signs” of COVID-19. And while she otherwise felt fine, she tested positive on July 9.
“At first I thought, what a fool I was for getting tested. If this is as bad as it gets it’s going to be nothing,” said Dr. Fenton, who coordinates pediatric clinical training for undergraduate nursing students. “And about 48 hours later I was so sick. I had every single symptom except for the respiratory. I didn’t end up in the hospital because I didn’t have the respiratory. I had the nausea, the fever, the muscle aches. And mine mimicked the neurological symptoms that you might see in meningitis. I had a stiff neck, a wicked headache that wouldn’t go away, sensitivity to light, dizziness and blurred vision.”
After 10 days or so quarantining at home and taking zinc, melatonin and vitamin C, Dr. Fenton began to recover. Her thoughts turned to helping others with the coronavirus by donating plasma.
“Why waste it? I can give it to other people,” she said. “I’m like, take it, take it. And all I have to do is keep my protein levels up.”
Much is still unknown about COVID-19, Dr. Fenton said, including how long the antibodies will remain protective, or even if she could become infected again.
But she knows the need is great. “The blood bank is pretty desperate. They’re calling people who are in really good health, young people, who can give plasma every three or four days. I can’t do that because when they draw from my, what I call old-age veins, it takes about a week for those bruises to go away.”
Dr. Fenton has donated plasma twice and is scheduled to give every other week. “I’m going to keep going until I run out of antibodies or my arm can’t take it anymore,” she said.
“I don’t know anyone who’s receiving the plasma, and I’m not supposed to, but I feel good because maybe it can save some lives,” Dr. Fenton said. “If I had to suffer through this, and God allowed me to survive and be healthy again, then I just want to help.”
University Hospital’s blood supplier is the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, which performs special testing and determines who is eligible to donate. A typical donation can help four to five patients.
If you tested positive for COVID-19 and have recovered, you may be able to help others by donating plasma. Contact the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center at 210-731-2719 or COVID19@southtexasblood.org.