Red Cross expert explains how convalescent plasma is being used amid COVID-19

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Retired nurse Cinday Washko-Margraf was one of the first COVID-19 cases in the United States when she got sick last March after traveling to New York to see Villanova University play basketball.

When she got better she knew she wanted to help.

"I said that I wanted to give, so this woman reached out to me and said her husband was in Cooper's ICU. He wasn't doing well, so I said I would absolutely love to give the convalescent plasma," she said.

People like Washko Margraf, who recovered from COVID-19, have antibodies in their blood.

Convalescent plasma therapy uses blood from people who have had a virus to help people who are sick. More than 100,000 people in the U.S. have been treated this way since the pandemic began.

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Dr. Dayand Borge, who is the division chief medical officer for the American Red Cross, says patience that receives this plasma early on tends to do a little bit better.

That's one of the reasons demand for plasma has plunged at some hospitals.

When COVID-19 cases surged over the winter, hospitals were infusing 30,000 patients a week. That's down to about 7,000, but the Red Cross says they're still checking people's blood donations for antibodies.

"Which is why we test. We test on every donation to see if the titers are still above a certain cut-off," said Borge.

A year after recovering, Washko-Margraf says she got a letter that her antibody count is no longer high enough to donate for convalescent plasma, which is why she's grateful she helped when she did.

"If I could give it by giving a little bit of plasma and somebody could live because of that, of course, I would do that," said Washko-Margraf.

Health experts do say that even if you've just been vaccinated, you can still give blood, even the same day, as long as you feel well.
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