Spectrum looks for plasma donors after promising COVID-19 treatment

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Spectrum Health is encouraging recovered COVID-19 patients to donate convalescent plasma after seeing promising results since first utilizing the treatment option.

In April, Spectrum announced it would use plasma therapy on the sickest patients after Michigan State University joined a nationwide effort to create a network of donors. 

“Compared with two months ago when I talked to you guys, this is (a) big, huge advancement and it’s a great opportunity to get more donors,” Spectrum Health Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Gordana Simeunovic told News 8 Friday. 

As of this week, Spectrum has treated 63 COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma. Fifty have recovered after receiving the treatment.

“If we consider that we treated the sickest patients, the most severely ill patients and mortality rate, that’s less than 20 percent,” Simeunovic explained. “(That’s) pretty good in this situation.”

Simeunovic noted the health system is taking part in Mayo Clinic research that reinforced promising results this week and little to no side effects.

“Our first goal was to prove this is a safe treatment, and it is safe,” Simeunovic added. 

But what about the 13 people who died even after receiving a plasma transfusion? 

“I’m pretty confident about the sooner in the disease we use plasma, it is working better. That’s what we expected and that’s what our experience showed,” Simeunovic said. “The longer patients are waiting to present to the hospital and the longer we are waiting to treat for any reason, for example, plasma wasn’t available right away so we had to wait (until) it becomes available, the longer we wait, it affects outcome in a negative way.” 

Given the promising results thus far, Spectrum hopes more people will donate. Simeunovic said an eligible person can safely donate weekly for eight consecutive weeks. 

One person’s donations can then save up to 32 people with severe symptoms, she said.

To be considered, COVID-19 patients must be symptom-free for at least 14 days. They can undergo a second test to verify that they are free of the virus. If patients have been symptom-free for greater than 27 days, no nasal swab is needed. 

If someone tests positive from an antibody test, they can also donate. 

“We have patients we’d like to treat now, but also would like to make some reserves, blood for the future,” Simeunovic said. “We’re not sure what will happen in the fall. If we will have another surge or we’ll have a lot of sick patients again, so we need blood.”

According to the COVID-19 Spectrum Health Dashboard, 31 patients were being treated Friday.

To learn more about donating convalescent plasma, email COVID19Research@spectrumhealth.org or contact your primary care physician.