Have you recovered from COVID-19? You may be able to help those critically ill with the virus

Convalescent plasma donations could potentially save local hospitalized COVID-19 patients

SAN ANTONIO – According to the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center, convalescent plasma is urgently needed in Bexar County to help critically ill patients diagnosed with COVID-19. The demand has greatly changed in the last month, which is why they need the help from those who have fully recovered from the respiratory illness.

Health experts say there isn’t a proven treatment for COVID-19; however, it’s believed that this form of transfusion can help hospitalized patients recover quicker from the virus.

“When they get a unit of convalescent plasma, it has neutralizing antibodies in it,” Elizabeth Waltman, chief operating officer for STBTC, said. “Those antibodies help fight the COVID-19 virus.”

Just a few weeks ago, STBTC said they were shipping out about five to six units of plasma each day. Due to the surge of cases linked to Memorial Day weekend, and with not enough donors, Waltman said now they’re backlogged.

“We’re shipping out 80 to 100 units of convalescent plasma a day to our local hospitals (with patients) that are critically ill,” Waltman said. “We have just about 100 convalescent plasma donors that come in every four days and donate. We need two or three times as many donors to help meet the need for plasma.”

RELATED: STBTC in need of more plasma donations to help patients fight COVID-19, other conditions

Deb and John Almarez learned about the need and stepped up to volunteer. The couple wanted to celebrate this year’s Independence Day in what they consider to be the most patriotic way: helping save the lives of Americans. Saturday morning marked their 20th donation.

“My cousin got diagnosed in California, and he was in ICU,” John said. “So, then I said, ‘Well, I better just do whatever I can to help people in San Antonio.’” John and Deb both recovered from COVID-19 after a trip to New Orleans in March of this year.

John (left) and Deb (right) Almarez donate convalescent plasma on a regular basis since April. The couple has directly impacted up to 100 COVID-19 critically ill patients in San Antonio. (John Almerez.)

“We were in New Orleans for a wedding, and (about five days after) we came back (home) we got diagnosed,” John said. “We felt tired and had the chills and classic symptoms of COVID-19.”

Once recovered, the Almarez’s reached out to STBTC to sign up to donate. Waltman said the couple was screened before they were able to donate. The FDA requires donors of convalescent plasma to be symptom-free of COVID-19 for 14 days, have proof of a prior diagnosis and meet the same requirement as a blood donor.

Symptoms of the respiratory virus, according to the CDC, include fever, chills, cough, congestion, among others.

“If you have recovered or if you tested positive for the antibody, please come and see us,” Waltman said. “I can assure you (your donation) is going to be in an area hospital within a matter of a day or two.”

John said his schedule allows him to visit STBTC every four days for his donation. Although Deb doesn’t come as often to donate convalescent plasma, together, the couple has directly impacted up to 100 patients in San Antonio.

“We enjoy doing this together, and we feel like San Antonio is our family,” Deb said. “That’s why we’re here (to help).”

The Almarez’s said they’ll continue to donate as much as possible to continue to help save lives.

According to the STBTC, they’re currently the only organization in South Texas that provides convalescent plasma directly to critically ill patients.

All interested participants must undergo a screening before setting up an appointment. For more information, visit STBTC’s website here.

RELATED: South Texas Blood & Tissue Center reports second employee tests positive for COVID-19

About the Authors:

Alicia Barrera is a KSAT 12 News reporter and anchor. She is also a co-host of the streaming show KSAT News Now. Alicia is a first-generation Mexican-American, fluent in both Spanish and English with a bachelor's degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. She enjoys reading books, traveling solo across Mexico and spending time with family.