Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
When he caught COVID-19, 1st Judicial District Judge Francis Mathew struggled to stay up past 5 or 6 in the evening. The fatigue and the headaches from the disease left him listless for about a week as his symptoms persisted.
But these symptoms would also make Mathew the perfect candidate to donate his convalescent plasma for COVID-19 antibodies. The Food and Drug Administration passed emergency-use authorization for the antibody treatment in hospitalized COVID-19 patients in August.
Mathew heard about donating plasma for antibodies before he got sick and, after he recovered, he knew he wanted to give back.
“It was clearly something that I had the ability to do,” he said. “And when you see the numbers of people that are dying, when you see the stories about people that have lost family members, it was just something that appeared to me to be something that I can make a difference with.”
In order to donate plasma, a person has to be 28 days recovered from COVID-19, Aussy Levi, a senior manager for donor recruitment at Vitalant blood bank, said. Plasma antibodies are best collected from someone who had COVID-19 symptoms because their antibody levels will be higher than someone who was asymptomatic, Levi said.
The donated plasma goes either to research or to COVID-19 patients, Levi said. At each donation, the plasma is tested for antibody levels to make sure it’s still good to be used. A person who has recovered from COVID-19 can continue to donate their plasma as long as their antibody levels remain high enough, which varies from person to person.
COVID-19 antibodies circulate in the blood’s plasma, Dr. Liz Rosenbaum, medical director for Vitalant in New Mexico and Texas, said. Antibodies work best in patients early in their COVID-19 infection.
The antibodies in the plasma were made in response to the COVID-19 infection, Rosenbaum said, so when they’re transfused to someone else, they will attack the virus. The idea is that the antibodies prevent the virus from spreading and multiplying throughout the body.
Mathew has been able to donate his plasma twice since recovering from COVID-19. He said he plans to continue donating as long as he has antibodies.
After it’s collected, plasma can last up to a year if frozen, but the demand for COVID-19 antibody plasma is so high that, as soon as it’s taken, it is used immediately, Levi said. Having a continuous donor flow, for blood or for plasma, is extremely important because an entire supply can be wiped out by a single accident.
Mathew said he encourages people to donate their plasma or blood, reverting back to an old saying, “If not me, who?”
“How can I expect someone to make a donation for someone that I might love,” he asked. “Or even for myself, if it had been necessary, if I’m not willing to do the same for someone else?”