Vail plasma donor helped save Denver doctor’s life
Convalescent plasma helped physician stricken with COVID-19 bounce back
A blood plasma donor from Eagle County might have helped save a Denver doctor’s life.
Dr. Christopher Ciarallo works with Denver Health on the frontlines of the COVID-19 fight, treating patients on every shift, and the shifts these days are long. He has seen enough COVID-19 symptoms to know when he has them, and he had them: cough, sore throat, fever …
His test at Denver Health confirmed what he already knew. He had it.
He sent himself home to self-quarantine for seven days but just got sicker. His wife, who’s also a doctor, took him to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
He did not improve, and while it’s not official medical terminology to say that he could do nothing except lay in bed tucked into the fetal position and make wounded animal noises, it is accurate.
Ciarallo demanded convalescent plasma but was told it’s for critically ill patients on ventilators in ICU.
“Convalescent plasma has not been used this early in the course of the disease, and perhaps it should be,” said Dr. Nadine Lober, a convalescent plasma donor who helped organized Vitalant’s mobile plasma drive in Vail.
With the help of his colleagues and connections, 12 hours later Ciarallo had permission and his plasma.
It turns out that Vitalant hosted one of the nation’s first mobile convalescent plasma drives in Vail the day before.
Two hours after he received it, Ciarallo could get out of bed, his fever broke and he could walk around. He left the hospital the next day.
He says he’s not 100% yet, but he’s recovering at home with his family.
“It saved my life,” Ciarallo said. “I’m so grateful to Dr. Lober and Dr. Alma Juels for starting this plasma drive with the wonderful Vail Valley residents who have donated, and those who will.”
If you want to help
Vitalant launched its mobile convalescent plasma drive in Vail last week. The mobile lab will be in Vail the next two Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Like any startup, the registration for plasma donors in Vail’s mobile lab has seen some glitches — scheduling delays and other frustrations. No one was more frustrated than Lober and Dr. Samantha Mack, director of Vitalant’s western states region.
They think they have the wrinkles ironed out, Lober said.
“Please remember that this is all new territory and we have now made it easier,” Lober said.
The criteria has remained the same:
- A donor must have a copy of a positive nasal swab test.
- After 14 days symptom-free you need a negative nasal swab test.
- If you’re 28 days symptom-free you do not need a negative nasal swab test.
- If you have had symptoms, or if you know you’ve had symptoms and are 28 days symptom-free, you can get an antibody test that shows you’re positive for COVID-19 antibodies.
They’ll send you a blood donor eligibility form. Fill that out, attach a copy of your test results and send it back.
They’ll connect you with a Denver-based scheduling center that will quickly schedule you for an appointment.
Two places to test locally
Lober says she’s aware of two Vail Valley places to get FDA-approved antibody tests: Doctors on Call in Avon and Colorado Mountain Medical. Both will send your blood samples to an FDA-approved lab.
Mack said there are many antibody tests for SARS-CoV-2, but only a few are FDA approved. Antibody results performed from testing platforms without this status are evaluated on a case-by-case basis for convalescent plasma qualification, Mack said.
“We just want to make sure to the best of our ability that the product getting transfused to these ill patients actually has the antibodies in it,” Mack said.
How it works
If you’ve recovered from COVID-19 you have probably developed antibodies that help fight off the virus. Those antibodies might help other virus victims recover if they get some of your blood plasma.
When you donate, your plasma is separated from your red blood cells, which are returned to you. You can donate plasma again in seven days, Lober said.
Each time your donate plasma, it can help three or more patients in an ICU.
Mack said it’s still “investigational,” but Ciarallo says he’s convinced.
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Lindsey Vonn no longer has a home in Vail, but a big piece of her heart will always remain here.