On March 17, I woke up and felt like I had been run over by a bus. The body aches followed by the fever I got that day forced me to call my doctor, who thankfully had available coronavirus testing kits. Forty-eight hours later, my doctor called. I had tested positive.

My family’s world was turned upside down in a matter of minutes. My wife, Kelly, a local pediatrician, had to leave work immediately and would not be able to see patients for more than two weeks. My oldest son, Julian, would have his birthday that weekend while our family of five was in full quarantine. 

In the end, we were blessed and lucky. I never had the respiratory challenges that many COVID-19 patients have had and, after a week, I was free of symptoms. More importantly, I didn’t infect my family or others.

About a week into our quarantine, my wife asked if I would be willing to donate my blood or convalescent plasma once I was free of the virus. Convalescent plasma is plasma carrying antibodies that are only present in people who have recovered from COVID-19. I said “yes” to donating, but I didn’t know how.

Around the same time, a friend called and asked if I would be willing to consider donating plasma to her uncle, who’d recently contracted the virus and was very ill. After that conversation, Metro Health District followed up and put me into contact with BioBridge, the strategic partner of South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, which is performing the plasma extractions. I learned the following from the great doctors at BioBridge about donating plasma: 

  • In order to donate, new modified FDA guidelines require that people diagnosed with COVID-19 be fully recovered and free of all symptoms for at least 14 days. A negative lab test for active COVID-19 disease is no longer necessary to qualify for donation. 
  • Most people can donate three to four bags of plasma;
  • People can donate plasma every four days;
  • One bag of plasma is more than enough to use on one sick patient. Four bags of plasma can be used on five different patients; 
  • The plasma donation process takes about 90 minutes and is made easy by very well-prepared donor care specialists.

As I was giving my second donation, I learned that the first three patients to receive plasma in our community were at death’s door when they received their plasma transfusions. All three were on ventilators with high levels of oxygen assistance. The prognosis for patients on ventilators is not good. Yet all three were released from the hospital within two weeks of receiving plasma.

One Austin woman who was given a plasma transfusion on a recent Saturday had her oxygen assistance cut in half by the following Wednesday. Two days later, she was released from the hospital. 

It’s vital that more people who’ve recovered make plasma donations, and our community and business leaders need to amplify that message. Simply put, plasma saves lives and provides hope.

It provides hope that we now have a successful tool to fight the virus and it provides hope that our community can gain confidence as we slowly return to some semblance of normalcy. No medicine or remedy to fight coronavirus has been clinically proven, but I am confident that plasma will act as our bridge to a vaccine. 

Paul Basaldua holds bags of recently donated plasma after recovering from COVID-19. Credit: Courtesy / Paul Basaldua

Last week the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center received its 100th unit of plasma. While that is a great achievement, there is still much work to be done in spreading the word among San Antonians who’ve recovered from COVID-19. The number of donors sits now around 20-25, yet we’ve had more than 800 residents who’ve recovered from the disease. 

If half of those recovered are able to give, our community would have more than enough plasma for those in our local hospitals. 

I ask that the good folks at Metro Health continue their tireless work and continue to encourage those who have recovered to give convalescent plasma. I ask that Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff continue their excellent work communicating daily coronavirus statistics to our community while using their platforms to continually urge folks to donate. I also encourage them to include the number of plasma donors to their daily updates. Shining a light on that need will undoubtedly increase the number of people willing to donate and help get our community on the path to a quicker recovery.

Recovered patients can learn more about participating by emailing COVID19@southtexasblood.org.

Paul Basaldua is the president and CEO of VersaTerra Development, a full service land development company based in San Antonio.