August 6, 2020 by Lucette Talamas
Baptist Health Finding Success Treating COVID-19 with Convalescent Plasma Therapy
As medical researchers across the globe scramble to find an effective protocol for treating the coronavirus, Baptist Health South Florida has become one of the first health institutions in the state to use convalescent plasma (CP) therapy for COVID-19 patients.
Partnering with Mayo Clinic, one of the largest nonprofit academic health systems in the U.S., Baptist Health is working to approve and treat more than 60 critically ill patients across its health system with CP therapy. Studies have shown that CP therapy can boost the ability of people to fight the virus through the powerful antibodies built up in the plasma of recovered COVID-19 patients.
Amy Schiffman, M.D., an immunologist with Boca Raton Regional Hospital, part of Baptist Health, was the first to use CP therapy on COVID-19 patients who were critically ill and on ventilator support, and outcomes have been overwhelmingly positive. Experts at Baptist Health and Mayo Clinic believe that treating non-critically ill patients in the earlier stages of their infections could help keep them out of the ICU and off the ventilator. Now, the two institutions have gained approval from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to expand the investigational drug study to include patients with moderate symptoms of the coronavirus.
“By partnering with Mayo Clinic, we can now expand the criteria to treat non-critical patients with plasma in earlier stages of the virus,” says Lincoln Mendez, CEO of Boca Raton Regional Hospital. “Preventing those with more moderate cases from having to be admitted into the ICU can save more lives and reduce the burden on our healthcare staff,” added Mr. Mendez, who is leading Baptist Health’s system-wide task force on plasma therapy.
How does CP therapy work?
CP therapy has been around since the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, and has been used to treat all sorts of viral infections. When you’re infected with the coronavirus or any other type of virus, your body develops antibodies in the bloodstream that help fight off that virus. Those same antibodies can be used to help treat patients with active COVID-19 infections.
Antibodies for the Baptist Health/Mayo Clinic study are collected through a simple donation of blood plasma, which is processed by the local blood bank and then delivered to the hospital where patients participating in the study are being cared for. Blood from a single donor can yield up to three units of plasma; most patients need just one unit but sometimes a second unit is required.
“CP therapy has been shown to reduce mortality and complications in patients who are critically ill with COVID-19,” says Samer Fahmy, M.D., chief medical information officer at Boca Raton Regional Hospital. “So far, we have infused close to 60 patients, many of whom have significant comorbidities, and the results have been very promising. We’ve already discharged a number of patients who were in the ICU.”
Identifying and screening potential donors is a logistical challenge, however, and plasma donations need to be matched to donors with the same blood type. Some donors have higher levels of COVID-19 antibodies, which often leads to better outcomes for patients, so Dr. Fahmy and his Baptist Health colleagues are hoping to identify more of these “super donors” through recruitment and screening efforts.
If you’ve recovered from COVID-19 and are interested in donating plasma, you’re encouraged to call 1-833-MYBAPTIST (833-692-2784). Donors must meet certain requirements and donated blood must also be tested for safety before use. There is no charge for the initial screening.
Concerned you may have coronavirus?
Use our online Coronavirus Assessment tool or call our COVID-19 hotline, 1-833-MYBAPTIST (833-692-2784). To see a doctor on your phone from the comfort and safety of your home, download Baptist Health Care On Demand.