A Millville businessman is among Sussex County residents donating plasma to help with the recovery of those ill with the coronavirus.
Joe Garner, a partner in local businesses including the Millville Boardwalk and Tented Events, donated his convalescent plasma for the first time on Monday at the Blood Bank of Delmarva in Dover, undergoing a process during which blood is drawn, red and white blood cells are returned, and only the plasma is kept.
Donations can be given weekly, up to eight times.
Plasma, the substance in blood that contains antibodies, is then processed and tested to determine if it’s suitable as part of treatment for coronavirus patients, explained Dr. Michelle Parsons, owner of Renove Med Spa in Rehoboth Beach.
She also treats medical patients, and some started asking about tests for antibodies, to help those convalescing.
Garner asked Parsons to test him after he realized, weeks later, that he might have had a mild case of the coronavirus.
After returning from a skiing trip in Vail, Colo., in February, the 32-year-old had lost his sense of taste and smell. Unalarmed, he attributed it to slight frostbite on his nose. He had no fever, upper respiratory distress, cough or other typical symptom of the coronavirus.
“I didn’t think twice about it. Then, three weeks later, I found out that losing your sense of taste and smell was a possible side effect of COVID-19. Four weeks after I got back from Vail, I heard there had been a small outbreak of the coronavirus there.
“So, two weeks ago, I got tested, and it came back positive. As Michelle put it, I was ‘chock full of antibodies.’
“I had seen that there were a couple actors that were donating plasma. I looked into it. A friend had given me Michelle’s information, so I called her up and she tested me,” Garner said.
He was at the blood bank for an hour and 10 minutes, and the process of donating itself took about 40 minutes.
“I sat in a very comfortable chair. You can read or watch TV. For the first time donating plasma, it was a surprisingly comfortable situation,” he said.
He characterized having plasma extracted, then blood pumped back into his vein “a weird experience, like a little bit of pressure, not painful, just different.”
“I felt one prick when she put the needle in to draw my blood. I was hooked up to a tube that runs without supervision. The only painful part was the prick in the beginning.
“I don’t know anyone besides myself who has had the disease, at least not in this area. I’m just helping people who are currently in the hospital. As far as I understand, they can inject the plasma into somebody who has COVID-19 and that gives them antibodies they aren’t able to produce,” he said.
Afterward, he was given apple juice and pretzels, but didn’t feel dizzy or faint, he said.
Parsons, an aesthetic medicine and wellness doctor, said a handful of her patients asked about testing and some, including Garner, were eager to donate plasma.
A donor has to have had the coronavirus to develop antibodies and they must be IgG, or immunoglobulin, antibodies, because that is the type that confers immunity, Parsons explained.
“This is something helpful that can start healing critically ill patients right away. There are plenty of people who have had the coronavirus. Some came to me because they were suspicious they had it. Others came in because family members were sick,” she said.
A self-described “Botox doctor” with a background in emergency medicine, Parsons, who has 3,000 patients, praised those willing to donate plasma.
“These patients were so wonderful. They said, ‘Yes, I will donate. I will do this.’ We tested about 100 patients, and the majority didn’t fit the symptoms. We had five out of 100 that did. I think that’s average.
“They were all recovered or asymptomatic. Those that were acutely ill, we sent them through the testing site,” she said.
Plasma has an anti-inflammatory benefit and has been used for decades, she said.
It helps a sick person build enough immunity to help with the recovery and to build temporary immunity.
“Even though it’s temporary, hopefully, they will make their own antibodies, but this virus hasn’t been around long enough, so nobody knows for sure,” she said.
“It seems to be helpful, and this is just from talking to some of the doctors from Beebe in Lewes, that it does seem to be helping,” Parsons said.
Beebe Healthcare recently announced the hospital has administered rapid antibody tests to determine exposure to the virus and if antibodies had developed.
In nearby Berlin, Md., Atlantic General Hospital has also announced its partnership with the Blood Bank of Delmarva to participate in a Mayo Clinic study using plasma from people who have recovered from the coronavirus to treat patients who are actively infected.
The first patient was treated on April 24.
The Blood Bank of Delmarva requires those wishing to donate plasma to have tested positive for the coronavirus and been free of symptoms for 28 days. Call 1-888-8-BLOOD-8 for more information.