Howard Werman donates convalescent plasma to help treat critically ill COVID-19 patients after recovering from the disease. Credit: Courtesy of Eileen Scahill

Howard Werman, a professor in the College of Medicine and physician at the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State, fought off the coronavirus and then turned to a new medical practice to help those still struggling.

Starting April 13, the medical center has transfused several COVID-19 patients with plasma from patients who have recovered from the virus through a process known as convalescent plasma therapy.

Convalescent plasma therapy uses the donor’s antibodies to attack the virus in critically ill patients, Scott Scrape, a pathologist and director of transfusion medicine at the medical center, said.

Werman said that when he was contacted by the center’s epidemiology unit to see if he would donate plasma after recovering from the disease late-March, he was more than willing to help.

“Honestly, I felt so lucky to have had a mild disease when others were severely ill that I felt that it was the least I could do,” Werman said.

Donating plasma is only a bit more complex than donating blood, Werman said. Once blood is extracted, the fluid elements are separated and red blood cells are transfused back into the donor’s body.

Scrape said seven patients have donated plasma and seven patients have been treated with the plasma as of Thursday, but the first patient received plasma April 13. Each donor can donate 600 milliliters of plasma, which can treat up to three patients.

“The plasma is screened like all plasma is from any blood donor for infectious disease and it’s tested for all infectious diseases that are appropriate to test for,” Scrape said.

Donors must have a previous diagnosis of COVID-19, be resolved of symptoms 28 days prior to donation, test negative for HLA antibodies — which reject transplants — and meet all requirements for regular blood donor eligibility.

Scrape said that although the practice is new for the COVID-19 outbreak, convalescent plasma transfusions have been used for other outbreaks — like the 1918 flu and the Ebola outbreaks — when vaccines or other treatments were not available.

Scrape said results have been positive so far, with a few patients already discharged.

Scrape said plasma donations are also being used for research on which antibodies are most effective for treatment.

“We have a fantastic group that has a lot of experience working with coronaviruses,” Scrape said. “We have a fantastic team that is working together to form research on this project.”

Those interested in becoming plasma donors for the medical center can find information and registration forms on its website.