Updated: July 01, 2020 06:26 PM
Created: July 01, 2020 05:44 PM
A growing number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients are getting plasma transfusions.
While it's still an experimental treatment, some doctors tell 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they are seeing positive outcomes.
"I've been treating patients with it personally and I've seen people have a nice response," said Dr. Erica Kuhlmann, ICU medical director and chief of staff at M Health Fairview Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul. "I am optimistic."
Bethesda is the only facility in Minnesota exclusively treating COVID-19 patients. Dr. Kuhlmann said they have 100 total beds and have treated about 400 COVID-19 patients since opening in March.
"We started giving plasma pretty much as soon as we opened Bethesda about three months ago," Dr. Kuhlmann said.
Eve Lust, of Forest Lake, is one of the Bethesda patients who received two plasma infusions while battling a life-threatening case of the virus.
Lust said her fever spiked and she started having difficulty breathing on April 21, shortly after her husband was diagnosed with COVID-19.
"The ambulance came and took me away and I was gone for 41 days," Lust said.
She said she was in a coma and on a ventilator at Bethesda for about three weeks.
"I almost died twice and that's hard to deal with," Lust said. "It's a fear that's going to be with me for the rest of my life because of COVID-19."
The 60-year-old said she has no underlying health conditions and doesn't know why her case became so severe.
While she was in a coma, her husband signed off on convalescent plasma treatment.
"I'm hopeful that it did help me," Lust said, "and definitely grateful to whoever donated it."
Lust was discharged from the hospital on June 9 and continues to recover at home.
According to Mayo Clinic, nearly 29,000 patients across the country have received plasma infusions through the COVID-19 expanded access program. Plasma contains antibodies from other COVID-19 survivors, which may help current patients fight the virus. It is not a proven cure or therapy and is still being studied across the country.
"We have been giving the most plasma in the state to our patients here at Bethesda," said Dr. Kuhlmann. "We definitely try to give everyone at least that first dose and see if it improves them clinically. If somebody has a good response to the first dose, we'll often redose them again to try to get even more of a response."
Dr. Kuhlmann said it is difficult to know if patients are improving as a direct result of plasma infusions but it is a good option because the risk of adverse side effects is minimal.
She said researchers at the University of Minnesota are studying the outcomes for patients who receive plasma at Bethesda. She said plasma appears to be more effective when administered early in treatment.
"What we've found is, as that viral load is high, that's when patients really start to decline," Dr. Kuhlmann said. "If we give it to them early on and try to neutralize some of that virus, then hopefully the rest of their clinical picture will improve, so we try to give it as soon as possible."
She encourages anyone who has recovered from COVID-19 to consider donating plasma.
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