Recovered COVID-19 patient and Grand Rapids native donates plasma to aid others

Grand Rapids native Grace Biermacher, left, donated plasma earlier this week. Courtesy Versiti Blood Center of Michigan

Versiti Blood Center of Michigan is collecting plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients to help treat those diagnosed with the virus.

Grand Rapids native Grace Biermacher donated plasma at Versiti Blood Center of Michigan’s Fuller Avenue donor center on Wednesday. Biermacher is a recovered COVID-19 patient, diagnosed with the virus and now declared virus-free. Her antibody-rich plasma will be able to be transfused to up to three COVID-19 seriously ill patients being treated at Michigan hospitals to aid in their recovery.

The blood-related treatment, approved by the FDA as an emergency investigational new drug, could offer hope to the hundreds of patients who continue to be diagnosed. This treatment would be used by hospitals for the most severely affected patients.

Versiti is working with its partner hospitals to identify recovered patients. As per guidelines, hospitals must request FDA approval and work within the emergency investigational new drug guidelines, or other approved investigational new drug, to treat COVID-19 patients with plasma. Donors will be referred to Versiti through hospitals or the recovered patients’ physicians.

Dr. Dan A. Waxman, vice president of transfusion medicine for Versiti, said potential donors must first be proven to have had a COVID-19 diagnosis through a positive lab test result and must then have a negative test result 14 days after recovering from symptoms.

“It’s a very collaborative effort with our hospital partners who will be working to identify and verify donors,” Waxman said.

The donated plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients will be provided directly to the hospitals with whom Versiti is partnering.

“Many of our hospital partners have already requested the donations,” Waxman said. “They are anxious to begin the program.”

The plasma treatment will transfer antibodies the recovered patient created into critically ill patients currently receiving care. Because of the investigational nature of this treatment, it is difficult to know just how many plasma infusions a COVID-19 patient may require, Waxman added.

Plasma donations, which take 30 to 40 minutes, will be collected at Versiti donor centers in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin. The donation process is the same as with other plasma donations and will be performed using an apheresis machine, which separates blood components.

Though blood group AB is the universal plasma donor, any blood type donor who has recovered from the virus is eligible to donate as part of the program.

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