DAVENPORT, Iowa — Joe Raaymakers returned to work in April, after recovering from a grueling two weeks battling the novel coronavirus. Now the Clinton police officer and his wife, who was also infected, are two of about 100 COVID-19 survivors in the region donating their blood for COVID-19 convalescent plasma therapy.
On Tuesday, Joe and Sarah Raaymakers settled into their donation chairs at the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center in Davenport, both hooked up to an apheresis machine that separates their blood into plasma and red blood cells. It was the third time donating plasma for Joe, and the first time for Sarah, since they have recovered from the coronavirus.
"I was anxious, excited, nervous, because I had never done it," Sarah told News 8 after the procedure.
For both of them, the decision to donate their plasma was inspired by duty and by curiousity.
"Just from hearing all the facts about how well the plasma had worked in other people that had contracted the disease and how quickly the ability to fight off the disease with someone’s plasma that has the antibodies, that’s what really interests me," the police captain said.
"This is such an easy thing for me to do, to help someone get through that experience [we had], that I just felt I had to a duty to help people," his wife added.
Joe tested positive in March, and within a few weeks, Sarah and their three sons got sick too. Fortunately, they did not have to be hospitalized, but the respiratory problems Joe experienced, and the constantly changing symptoms for Sarah, were physically and mentally draining.
"It was pretty early on that we contracted the virus, so we are kind of recovering before some other people. There wasn’t a lot of people donating plasma at the time," the polic captain said.
"We started collecting plasma from COVID-19 patients last month," said Pete Lux, the blood center's director of donor and patient services. "We are doing anywhere from about 10 to 15 convalescent donors a day right now."
The number of donors has gradually ramped up and is expected to grow bigger as more patients recover.
Lux said nationwide, about 15,000 doses of COVID-19 convalescent plasma have been donated, adding that this type of plasma therapy has never done before to this scale in the United States.
"I’m absolutely amazed that I was ever part of this."
The plasma from COVID-19 survivors provides passive immunity to patients who are currently fighting the virus, he explaiend. "Those people have developed active immunity. We can take take the antibodies from that recovered donor and give them to a patient who is recovering from COVID-19. It can reduce the severity of their symptoms and it can help in their recovery."
Covid-19 patients must be symptom-free for 28 days before they can begin to donate their plasma. They must still pass through all the health screenings standard for all blood donors.
After their plasma is extracted, the red blood cells are pumped back into the donor, allowing the recovered patient to donate their plasma more often.
The process takes about 45 minutes and yields three to four doses of blood, thus helping three to four patients.
"Right now we’re looking at once a week for four weeks, than we re-evaluating how they are at that point," Lux said.
A lot is still unknown about the novel coronavirus but with every transfusion, more lessons emerge.
"We found that people who have had symptoms have a higher level of antibodies."
And those antibodies from donor plasma trigger the patient to make their own antibodies, Lux added.
The Raaymakers are planning to come back, Joe for at least one more week, and Sarah for the next three weeks, to keep on giving their convalescent plasma for as long as they can.
Donors must have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus to participate in this program, but the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center is in need of all kinds of blood donations now that hospital are moving forward with elective surgeries again.
Visit https://www.bloodcenter.org/ to make a self-referral for COVID plasma or any other blood donation.