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COPING WITH COVID: The Blood Connection

Molly Hulsey //April 17, 2020//

COPING WITH COVID: The Blood Connection

Molly Hulsey //April 17, 2020//

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Coping with COVID

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The Blood Connection performs all sample processing at its lab in Piedmont. (Photo/Provided)

As Prisma Health and Charleston’s Roper St. Francis wade into a treatment trial using the plasma of recovered COVID-19 patients, Piedmont’s The Blood Connection has received three blood donations for the treatment.

The nonprofit blood bank, Prisma’s exclusive blood provider, expects many more donations to come 28 days after the first wave of COVID-19 patients recover and are eligible to donate.

“Our medical director tells us that in the next two weeks we are going to have a much bigger pool of people that can come donate, and even in the next month, of course, there’s going to be a lot of people who are out of the woods and recovered from COVID-19,” said Allie Van Dyke, partnership and media coordinator at The Blood Connection. “We’re prepared, at least for the next month.”

The trial, coordinated by the Food and Drug Administration and the Mayo Clinic in 100 locations across the country, will use convalescent serum derived from fully recovered COVID-19 patients to treat patients whose lives are threatened by the virus.

The University of South Carolina will assist with lab testing, and The Blood Connection will collect and prepare blood samples for the treatment within days.

“The immune systems of recovered patients have created the antibodies needed to clear the virus from the body. These same antibodies can be collected from them in a process much like giving blood and then given to others who are still struggling with the disease. We are hopeful that using the treatment will help more severely ill people recover more quickly, said Dr. Jeffery Edenfield, medical director at Prisma’s Translational Oncology Research Institute.

He said similar treatment has proved successful in other viral respiratory outbreaks.

The Blood Connection was notified of Prisma’s acceptance into the nationwide testing program at the end of last week, but with an existing capacity to process 600 blood donations into plasma and platelet infusions and other blood products, Van Dyke said the transition will not be too taxing. She said the blood supply is the bank’s primary concern for getting the treatment into hospitals.

“We have the equipment. That wasn't something we needed to implement; we have everything set. This is pretty seamless for us, because, for us, it is just a regular plasma donation. We just tag the bag a different way and obviously send it to the hospital for a very specific use,” she said. “We were already doing processing on a large scale.”

The Blood Connection’s lab, based in Powdersville, processes all samples received across the state, which are then sent to hospitals across South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina.

“We are all-encompassing, we do this all in-house, so that’s what makes us a unique local blood center. We are getting the donations locally and are also processing it locally,” Van Dyke said.

At the lab, the blood plasma is processed, stripped of markers that identify the sample with the donor, and tested for infectious diseases. Within 48 hours, the sample can be sent to health care providers per a hospital’s order.

Any hospital eligible for the COVID-19 antibody treatment program can order samples from the blood bank, Van Dyke said.

The Blood Connection sees potential in future antibody testing but is awaiting further FDA guidance. She expects that to come within two weeks to a month.

Antibody testing could prove essential for boosting plasma donations from individuals who had COVID-19 but were not diagnosed. For now, donors must have a certificate of a COVID-19 diagnosis for their sample to be used in the treatment. 

“We don’t know when the antibody test comes, but when it comes, we know it’s going to change everything,” she said.

Patients who have recovered from COVID-19 and wish to donate can make an appointment with The Blood Connection by calling 864-751-1168.