GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Versiti Blood Center in Grand Rapids is still welcoming healthy donors, but they had an especially exciting donor walk through the door Thursday, and they weren’t there to donate blood.
20-year-old Grand Rapids native and University of Michigan student Grace Biermacher was there to donate plasma. She recently recovered from COVID-19 and is the first donor at Versiti to offer up what could be the key to a coronavirus treatment – her antibodies.
“It’ll attach to the virus - kind of put a red flashing light on it - so that the patient’s immune system can attack those cells and get them out of circulation,” said Dr. LeeAnn Weitekamp of Versiti. “It’s been tried with respiratory viruses before. It’s been tried with the H1N1 Flu, with MERS, with SARS-1, had some success with Ebola.”
Biermacher is part of the first wave of Michigan patients to recover. She was diagnosed in mid-March after her study abroad semester in hard-hit Spain was cut short.
Her plasma has important antibodies that, to the knowledge of science, only exist in a person who has immunity to the disease and could be given to others to fight COVID-19 in their own bodies.
“I’m super excited, I feel really grateful I’m able to do this,” said Biermacher as she filled out her donation paperwork. “I just want to be as helpful as helpful as I possibly can, and this is a super simple thing to do.”
Biermacher isn’t flouting her immunity. She says she’s still being careful and social distancing like everyone else. Health experts are still unsure on some of the behavior of COVID-19, and it’s pattern of immunity is a bit of a mystery and may only exist for a short time.
In the meantime, Versiti is hoping for the best. They’re working with local hospitals to identify recovered patients and are encouraging any recovered patients to email them at firstname.lastname@example.org .
The antibodies are considered an investigational drug, Dr. Weitekamp says, and still need some consideration from the FDA before they can be given as treatment to patients. But it’s an important first step.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that [the plasma’s] both got the right antibodies, and it doesn’t have the virus in them,” she added.
Patients who have been clear of symptom for between 14-27 days must be able to produce their original positive test, and their negative test. Anyone who was diagnosed but hasn’t shown symptoms for 28 days or more only has to produce their original positive test.
To visit Versiti’s website to find out more, or to schedule a blood donation, click here.