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Wednesday, April 29, 2020 - Roper St. Francis Healthcare treats first COVID-19 patient with plasma

A Roper Hospital COVID-19 patient on Tuesday received plasma for the first time from a patient who has recovered from the virus.

Thus far, there have been no ill effects on the patient, and caregivers are hopeful the experimental treatment will help.

“We don’t know whether this (antibody infusion) will affect the illness, but there is precedent in other viral illnesses that it could very well help, particularly in the early stages,” said Dr. George Geils Jr., a hematologist/oncologist who is part of the interdisciplinary team caring for COVID-19 patients at Roper Hospital. “You’re giving someone passive immunity; they don’t have innate immunity but hopefully by providing the antibody, they can more rapidly clear the virus and not suffer as many consequences, such as respiratory failure.”

After infections, most patients create antibodies that can fight the viruses that caused their illness. In some instances, patients in the throes of fighting the disease can recover faster if they receive a plasma transfusion from patients who have recovered from the same disease.

Initial data from studies using COVID-19 convalescent plasma to treat patients with severe or life-threatening disease have showed benefit for some patients, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Roper St. Francis Healthcare is participating in a national trial being overseen by the Mayo Clinic, which estimates more than 3,000 patients nationwide have received a plasma transfusion at more than 2,100 sites. The trial is evaluating the efficacy of the transfusions as well as whether the transfusions have any harmful effects.

Roper St. Francis Healthcare has been the epicenter of care for COVID-19 patients in the Lowcountry, treating more COVID-19 patients than any other healthcare system. RSFH has been working with the Blood Connection to contact its former COVID-19 patients who are recovered from the virus and shared with them the opportunity to donate plasma, which is in short supply.

The majority of patients who develop COVID-19 don’t suffer serious consequences and wouldn’t need a plasma transfusion. The interdisciplinary team at Roper Hospital still is working to identify who would most likely benefit from this investigational treatment, but Geils said the patient must be hospitalized and requiring oxygen.

The one-time plasma transfusion also needs to happen early when the virus still is replicating, Geils said. As the virus progresses, the body responds with profound inflammation, which damages organs and contributes to mortality, he said. If the therapy is to work, the antibody needs to bind to the virus while it’s replicating rather when organs are failing, he said.

“The cost in terms of life and quality of life that these patients endure, potentially permanently if they survive, is a sobering reality that we’ve learned in the context of treating these patients,” he said. “We’re just trying to use every possible resource in a thoughtful way to try to affect their prognosis.”

For the patient who received the transfusion on Tuesday, Geils said he would expect to see improvement in the patient’s condition within a few days. The team also decided on Wednesday to transfuse a second COVID-19 patient with convalescent plasma.

“Ultimately, what we hope to show is that fewer patients develop organ failure and that mortality is reduced,” he said.

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