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East County Friday, Dec. 18, 2020 2 months ago

Convalescent plasma donations in Lakewood Ranch provide Pennsylvania Christmas miracle

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Jay Heater: Side of Ranch
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

The word was sent out all over the country on Dec. 16. The Miller-Keystone Blood Center in Bethlehem, Pa., had an urgent need for convalescent plasma.

So near to Christmas, you've got to figure there's a Christmas story to be had, especially when you're dealing with a place called Bethlehem.

Add to it, the alarm was being rung by Hope Dorn, the distribution and inventory manager at the Miller-Keystone Blood Center.

Bethlehem ... Hope. You can see where this is headed.

Hope's search was netting no positive results, though, as she needed Type AB, which is found in less than 1% of the population. It started to become clear that a Christmas miracle was needed.

The SunCoast Blood Centers, at its headquarters in Lakewood Ranch, was ready to save the day. Indeed, SunCoast had Type AB convalescent plasma (coming from a donor who had tested positive for COVID-19), and quickly flew the convalescent plasma toward Bethlehem.

Unfortunately, a blizzard was sweeping across the Northeast, and the plane carrying the convalescent plasma was grounded in Detroit. Back in Lakewood Ranch, the SunCoast staff tracked down a courier who was willing to brave the blizzard to drive to Bethlehem.

He did so, too, but in navigating his way through the blizzard, the driver moved the package carrying the frozen plasma from the back of the truck, which was not heated, to the cab. When he arrived at Miller-Keystone, the convalescent plaza had thawed and could not be used.

Once again, SunCoast was asked if it had any more Type AB convalescent plasma. It did. It quickly went out on a plane, this time making it to Philadelphia, and was driven the rest of the way to Bethlehem, arriving in time to be sent to the hospital and used in a patient's treatment.

"It's these kind of efforts and this kind of compassion that defines our blood center," SunCoast CEO Scott Bush wrote in a note to his employees. "Every single day we have these kind of efforts happen here with little to no fanfare."

Individuals who recover from COVID-19 have developed antibodies to the virus that remain in the plasma portion of their blood. Transfusing the plasma that contains the antibodies into a person still fighting the virus can provide a boost to the patient’s immune system and potentially help them recover.  

ndeed, the story will be told around the SunCoast offices as the Christmas miracle of 2020, but the truth is that blood centers such as SunCoast produce similar miracles on a daily basis, at any time of the year. And the real miracle worker could be you.

With positive COVID-19 results spiking around the U.S., hospitals have an extreme need for convalescent plasma. SunCoast characterizes the need as "dire" and is asking anyone in the region who has tested positive for COVID-19 to consider the hour-long procedure which takes blood from your body, removes the plasma, and then recirculates the blood back into you. It's a simple procedure much like your regular blood donation, except you get your blood back and it takes a little longer.

Suncoast's Joan Leonard stressed that even if you never had a COVID-19 test, but you were asymptomatic, a blood donation will reveal if you can produce convalescent plasma. Anyone who donates convalescent plasma currently gets a $50 Amazon gift card. So you've got that going for you, too.

When this pandemic passes, SunCoast Blood Centers still needs your blood donations and your platelets (50% of which go to patients having cancer treatments). Leonard said only 3% of our nation's population donates blood at the current time, which means there are more people sick than donating.

If you want to donate blood and plasma or just want to find out more about the process, you can go to SunCoast Blood Centers at 3025 Lakewood Ranch Blvd Suite 111 or check out the website at SunCoastBlood.org. You can scheduled an appointment by calling 993-8119.

You must be at least 16 to give blood. On the age high side, Leonard said you can give blood "as long as your heart is beating."

If nothing else prompts you to go, consider it might be you waiting for that next Christmas miracle.

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