Doctors Hopeful Plasma Treatment Could Help COVID-19 Patients

Apr 21, 2020, 7:08 PM | Updated: 8:12 pm

MURRAY, Utah – Doctors at Intermountain Healthcare performed the state’s first plasma transfusion for a COVID-19 patient in critical condition. The new treatment has given patient and medical care workers hope.

Several days ago, doctors gave that 24-year-old woman the state’s first plasma transfusion from another recovered patient.

After seeing the initial results, they wanted to provide the potentially helpful treatment to other Utahns suffering from the virus.

Doctors at Intermountain Healthcare said they have a lot of hope for the treatment, and so does Moises Lemus, whose wife, Cynthia, has been fighting for her life in the hospital.

“I would love for other families not to feel the way I feel,” said Moises. “It is literally the worst feeling in the world.”

Moises and Cynthia Lemus both tested positive for coronavirus three weeks ago. During the first few days, the virus seemed to intensify.

“It feels like someone’s on your chest, right? We were getting fevers of 102° to 103°,” Moises said. “We would take medicine, and my fever will go down. Her fever wouldn’t go down.”

On the fifth day, they both went to the emergency room. Moises checked out, but doctors kept Cynthia overnight.

“About 4 o’clock in the morning was when she called me and let me know they were going to put her on a ventilator,” said Moises. “I told her I loved her, and that she was going to be OK.“

That was 15 days ago. He talked to her for the first time Tuesday on an iPad. Cynthia was not yet able to speak, but did know that Moises was there.

“She actually heard me, because I saw her shake her head,” he said. “That made me feel really good and gave me a lot of joy.”

Moises said he believes Cynthia has improved since she received the plasma infusion five days ago, but doctors did not yet know whether it has helped.

“The nurses have been telling us they are seeing signs of progress. They call it baby steps,” he said.

He said he was glad his wife is part of the national investigative study.

“We are taking plasma from those who have recovered, through a donation program, and making it available to patients who are fighting the virus,” said Dr. Brandon Webb, chair of the Intermountain COVID-19 therapeutics team.

Intermountain has been participating in an FDA-sponsored program that gives plasma to COVID-19 patients from patients who have recovered from the virus.

When a patient is infected, the body mounts an immune response and makes antibodies. Those antibodies may be beneficial to a patient fighting the virus.

“The concept behind giving convalescent plasma is to give one who is infected those pre-formed antibodies, in hopes that they will neutralize the virus and decrease the amount of tissue damage,” said Webb.

The blood types of the donor and recipient must match, and there are other medical criteria, as well. The treatment has only been made available for hospitalized patients with COVID-19. Fewer than 10 percent of Utah cases will be eligible for treatment, because that is the hospitalization rate.

Those who have had coronavirus, have been well for at least 28 days, and are at least 18 years old can donate their plasma. Donors can get started with online screening

Moises said he hoped the treatment was making a difference, and that his wife will be out of the hospital soon.
“Really, the hardest part is not being able to be at the hospital, holding her hand, letting her know that she’s going to be OK,” he said.

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Doctors Hopeful Plasma Treatment Could Help COVID-19 Patients