Philip Ortego and Natasha So’oto are engaged to be married. In May of last year, when Philip asked Natasha to marry him in the mountains of Tennessee this Northern Louisiana couple had no idea how much could change in a year. In late March and most of April they were forced to spend time away from each other. They spent 3 weeks in solitude from one another after they both tested positive for COVID-19. Thankfully, their cases were mild and they recovered while at home and in quarantine.
Philip is a a physical therapist and Natasha is a registered nurse at CHRISTUS Shreveport Bossier Health System. They both have handled a lot of tough cases. Everyday, they act as our health care heroes. But, more recently they took an extra step in helping others when they both agreed to do what they could to help others infected with COVID-19.
“A nurse educator at work, contacted both of us about the process of donating plasma and coordinated everything throughout the whole process,” explained Philip.
Natasha and Philip both describe the need to save a life as their driving choice to donate to the LifeShare Blood Center.
“Any chance of saving a life is worth trying even if it is a small one. We had heard in the media about the process of donating plasma and positive results that it could have for those that are very sick with the virus” said Natasha.
Natasha donated through a process called plasmapheresis. Philip followed with his donation 2-weeks later.
Virus-fighting antibodies that people like Philip and Natasha might have in their blood could attack bacteria and viruses. A plasma transfusion isn’t new in medicine, but treating it to fight COVID-19 is a new step. This week in cooperation with a national program led by the Mayo Clinic CHRISTUS Health hit a milestone and administered their 107th successful transfusion.
Plasma is a clear liquid portion of blood that remains after blood cells, platelets and other cellular components are removed. It contains water, salts, antibodies and other proteins. It is collected from healthy voluntary donors. Doctors are hoping to use virus-fighting antibodies that are borrowed from their recovered patients like Natasha and Phillip to help critically ill COVID patients. They believe that donations may help prevent, or cure the disease or both.
A recently published peer-reviewed manuscript in the University of Louisville Journal of Respiratory Infections details the work of Dr. Srikanth Ramachandruni, Department of Infectious Diseases and Pulmonary Medicine at CHRISTUS Spohn Health System,. He is the first author of a small but important study of investigational COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma therapy
” Few patients .. 7 to be exact.. had really positive outcomes to the point they got stable enough to be discharged in less than 7 days,” explained Dr. Ramachandruni. Dr. Ramachandruni who goes by Dr. Ram along with his other South Texas physician peers and others in ministries across CHRISTUS Health remain collectively engaged in important research endeavors. In cooperation with a national program led by Mayo Clinic, CHRISTUS ministries across the United States are employing convalescent plasma therapy in the treatment of COVID-19.
“CHRISTUS Health’s Institute for Innovation and Advanced Clinical Care remains thankful to all the physicians and research staff who have come together as ONE CHRISTUS team for this life-saving and innovative work,” said Pukar Ratti, MSChE, MSHCM, CIM, CCRP, FACMPE, System Director, Research & Academics. “Despite no FDA-approved treatment regimens available today for COVID-19 patients, our research institute at CHRISTUS Health is continuing to make every effort to connect our diverse patients with the best possible investigational and advanced clinical care options. The investigational COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma therapy is one of these public health emergency research efforts to develop a possible treatment for COVID-19.”
Dr. David Chee, CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Medical Center’s Intensivist enrolled more than two dozen patients in the study.
“Unfortunately, the pace of science is much slower than the pace that this pandemic has forced us to take,” said Dr. Chee. “The overall experience has been good. The amount of time that it takes to usually set up a research protocol has been condensed to a relatively short period of time. Things are running smoothly now and I don’t foresee any problems in the future. It did take a bit of effort to set things up with the South Texas Blood and Tissue Bank, mostly due to lack of donors when this disease first spread to the San Antonio area. Through concentrated efforts, however, things have gotten better.”
Things getting better is more than just a hope for a team used to figuring things out and fixing things. Things getting better is their expectation. More positive outcomes is the goal on everyone’s mind even if it means plowing through complex regulatory approvals and setting sights on serving as many people as possible through convalescent plasma transfusion.
“In order to provide participation opportunities to every eligible patient across CHRISTUS Health, we have obtained extensive regulatory approvals for geographically spread-out acute care facilities. We are conducting this research in Texas cities like San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Tyler, Texarkana, Longview, Beaumont, and in cities in Lousiana; Shreveport-Bossier City, Alexandria, Couchatta, Lake Charles as well as in Santa Fe New Mexico,” explained Ratti.
Recently, a 94 year old patient in Northeast Texas underwent a plasma transfusion and after being critically ill ended up getting much better and was able to be discharged from the hospital on her 95th birthday. That patient story, and others are the reasons why people donate and why researchers keep looking for methods to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is convalescent plasma therapy?
Convalescent plasma refers to blood plasma collected from people who have recovered from COVID-19. The donated plasma is used to treat others with advanced illness. The plasma donor must have recovered from, and tested negative for, COVID-19 and be otherwise healthy.
The treatment is based on the function of antibodies – proteins created by the immune system that combat invaders to the body in a variety of ways. Some are capable of neutralizing a virus, while others work by mobilizing a range of other immune cells that fight off disease. It is not yet known by which mechanism COVID-19 antibodies might work, but the current thinking suggests that an infusion of convalescent plasma may boost a generalized immune response, known as passive immunity, until a patient develops a strong, targeted ability to fight the virus.
Plasma Donors Needed
The collection of donated plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients is currently underway. Eligible donors must be COVID-19 recovered patients who have been completely asymptomatic for at least 14 days.
If you have recovered from COVID-19 and would like to donate plasma, please contact: uscovidplasma.org/donate