Blount Memorial Hospital is one of the more than 1,400 hospitals that is working with the Mayo Clinic to help fight COVID-19 (coronavirus) in some of our nation’s sickest patients.
Hospital officials enrolled in Mayo Clinic’s Expanded Access Program on April 6 before speaking with Mayo Clinic officials about the program’s specifics on April 10. The program is a research program supported by the United States Government, and it is designed to collect and provide convalescent plasma to current COVID-19 patients across the country.
And, because Blount Memorial Hospital is part of the national program, its severely ill COVID-19 patients are eligible to receive donated plasma to help fight the virus, should the medical conditions deem it beneficial.
“For us, enrolling in this program to help researchers potentially save the lives of others who are suffering from COVID-19 was an easy decision,” says Blount Memorial Hospital chief medical officer Dr. Harold Naramore. “We’ve had a great relationship with Mayo Clinic since becoming a part of its Mayo Clinic Care Network last fall, and this was another way to support Mayo Clinic’s work – but also the potential future COVID-19 needs of our community and region.”
As part of the program, plasma donated by a recovered COVID-19 patient is collected and then administered to a patient currently battling the virus. “It is thought that plasma -- or the liquid portion of blood -- from recovered COVID-19 patients may contain helpful antibodies that could help fight the disease in others,” he says.
“When you get a virus, your body responds to the ‘foreign’ matter by making antibodies,” Naramore explains. “And as your body fights the virus and you recover from it, for a period of time, you still have in your blood the antibodies that your body worked hard to create as you fought to recover from the virus.”
Naramore says those antibodies are what Mayo Clinic is looking for from recovered COVID-19 patients so that doctors can try to help the sickest COVID-19 patients. “Your body has these antibodies left after you’ve recovered, and that’s why your plasma is so helpful to others who are severely ill with the virus – you’re essentially giving them the ability to fight the same virus that your body was able to overcome.”
Currently, there are no approved medicines or vaccines to fight COVID-19, but Mayo Clinic has reported seeing some positive impact in COVID-19 patients who are receiving the convalescent plasma through the program to date. “While, right now, it’s too early to say if this will help every individual who is suffering with COVID-19, it is showing some positive results in some who have received antibodies from individuals who have fully recovered from the virus,” Naramore says.
“Globally, we’re still trying to create medications and vaccines to help combat this disease,” Naramore says. “But doing this takes time, and it takes research and studies to determine effectiveness and safety.”
Although the hospital has been signed up for more than a week to participate as a participating hospital, starting Monday, the hospital’s supplier of blood products, MEDIC Regional Blood Center, will begin collecting plasma products from individuals who meet specific recovery guidelines after having a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis.
The local option for plasma donation may help provide Mayo Clinic additional plasma samples to add to its program, which has transfused nearly 350 patients to date. And Blount Countians who have recovered from COVID-19 will have a way to participate and support important transfusion efforts being developed by Mayo Clinic.
“Our physicians will contact any patient that Blount Memorial originally tested and resulted a positive diagnosis for to extend the opportunity to them as they are eligible based on where they are in the recovery phase,” Naramore says. “Not all patients will choose to do this, but for those who do, they may end up helping someone else – someone who may be very ill with the virus – recover.” If they choose to participate, then they’ll be sent to MEDIC, where they’ll complete the donation process.
A plasma donation is made as part of a whole blood donation, according to MEDIC. Plasma and red cells are separated, and plasma is essentially pulled out for use in the transfusion and the red blood cells are returned to the donor. The process takes about 25 minutes longer than a typical whole blood donation and would be completed at MEDIC’s Ailor Avenue location in Knoxville.
According to MEDIC, potential plasma donors must be symptom-free for at least 14 days prior to making a plasma donation and should also have had a negative COVID-19 test, as well. Currently, MEDIC says those individuals who are asymptomatic or those who think they may have previously had COVID-19 but do not have a confirmed positive result from a laboratory are not eligible to donate to the program.
“The virus continues to affect people in our country and in life-threatening ways,” Naramore says, adding that’s why Mayo Clinic is undertaking and leading this important program – and why we’re interested in encouraging our patients – and other recovered COVID-19 patients -- to support it.
“You’ve heard medical professionals say that blood donation can save a life,” Naramore says. “Well, the same applies here – one donation of plasma by a recovered COVID-19 patient may also save a life, which is a life that may not otherwise have a lot of other options available until we find treatment therapies and vaccines, get them approved and start using them routinely.”