How COVID-19 survivors in Vermont are helping patients nationwide

Published: Jul. 20, 2020 at 4:44 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - COVID-19 survivors are donating some of their antibodies to help patients currently struggling with the coronavirus. Our Cat Viglienzoni takes you to the Red Cross in Burlington to meet a Vermonter who’s using his blood to help others beat the virus.

Monday morning, Kevin Arthur showed up at the Red Cross in Burlington to help fight the coronavirus. He's a COVID-19 survivor and was there to try to transfer some of the protection his body has to the virus to others.

"This is my third trip," Arthur said.

The Essex Junction resident didn't go to the Red Cross before. But after he got ill in March and recovered, he wanted to help.

"I said, 'Well, that's something I can do and hopefully make a difference,'" Arthur said.

So he sits with a needle in his arm and lets a machine filter out a different type of liquid gold. The process takes about an hour. The pheresis machine takes in the blood and separates the plasma out. That's the part that has the antibodies in it and it's the part the Red Cross says they're going to be sending out to hospitals to help patients.

"We have had an amazing response from people who are fully recovered and able to donate plasma," said Mary Brant, a spokesperson for the Red Cross Northern New England Region.

Brant tells me they started collecting plasma in April. As of July 19, 10,000 donors had given 20,000 units of convalescent plasma nationwide. Hospitals, including some in our region, request it for patients they think need it most. And the antibodies in the plasma give their immune systems a boost.

"So right now this is helping people who are in the midst of fighting this disease until a vaccine is developed," Brant explained.

While convalescent plasma donations have been used for other viruses like measles and Ebola, the science is still out on how effective they are for COVID-19. A recent study by the Mayo Clinic of 20,000 people found the treatment was safe and showed promise.

Arthur says he'll keep coming until he doesn't have antibodies anymore.

"If you can keep people out of literal life-or-death situations, that's pretty worthwhile," he said.

The Red Cross encourages all COVID-19 survivors to go to their website and see if they’re eligible to donate.

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