MANILA – A seaman and 2 nurses who survived the coronavirus disease on Thursday set in motion a blood plasma donation drive at the Philippines' main government hospital that it hopes to use on severely ill patients, a doctor there said.
The trio underwent plasmapheresis after they met criteria for potential donors, said Dr. Thaddeus Hinunangan, a pathology resident at the Philippine General Hospital.
Plasmapharesis separates the plasma from blood cells. In the absence of a vaccine for COVID-19, the PGH is eyeing convalescent plasma therapy to help treat patients.
The 31-year-old seafarer, Ceasar Ian Frias, is a crew member of the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in Japan due to the virus. He tested positive for March while on quarantine in Tarlac province, north of Manila and was cleared that same month.
"Hindi ko in-expect, ganun pala ka big deal ‘to. Akala ko, just like ordinary routine lang na ginagawa kapag nagdo-donate sa Red Cross. Importante pala talaga ‘to, said Frias, a regular at blood donation drives.
(I did not expect that this is such a big deal. I thought, it’s just like the ordinary routine of donating blood to the Red Cross. This is actually very important.)
“Proud ako na naka-contribute ako sa procedure na ginagawa ngayon ng mga doctors ng PGH,” Frias said.
(I’m proud to have contributed to this procedure being done by the doctors of the PGH.)
Hinunangan described the plasma donations from the 3 as an "optimistic start," adding, "Imagine, despite the lockdown, despite being Holy Week, despite the discrimination of health workers, the blood bank team and the Pathology residents were still able to start the convalescent plasma program."
“That speaks a lot of how determined we are,” he told ABS-CBN News.
The convalescent plasma, which contains antibodies, will be transfused to a suitable recipient in the hope of neutralizing the new coronavirus.
As of Thursday, the Philippines has recorded 4,076 confirmed COVID-19 cases, of which, 203 patients have died while 124 have recovered.
In a Facebook post, Hinunangan identified the first 3 donors as “our heroes.”
One of the nurse donors said she donated her blood because she really wanted to help even when she was still confined due to the disease.
Anxious because she has never tried donating blood, but also hopeful because of the positive things she has read about plasma therapy, the nurse submitted herself to the procedure with her COVID-19 experience in mind.
“To lessen my anxiety, I tried to think again of what happened to me in the hospital. And then, I remember the other COVID patients. I know for a fact that they will need this to extend their life,” said the nurse, who requested anonymity as she had no permission from her hospital employer to speak to the press.
“If this one works in other countries, I think there is no harm in trying it in our own country, because we are left with no choice,” she said of the plasma therapy. “Our healthcare system is now suffering. I hope this will work.”
Hinunangan said 3 more donors would undergo plasmapheresis Friday, while 4 others were awaiting “informed consent.”
“We have a partial list, but we are greatly encouraging more eligible COVID survivors to help out,” he said.
“All donors are welcome, whether they are politicians or everyday heroes.”
Following the blood extraction of the donors, Hinunangan said “the blood is processed and stored at the blood bank,” and “a multi-disciplinary committee composed of clinicians (Pulmonologists, Internists, Hematologists) use an algorithm to select the suitable recipient.”
While he leaves it to his counterpart in the clinical wards to say how soon the collected plasma can be transfused to “suitable recipients,” he said this procedure can “probably” happen already this month.
Hinunangan said that even as studies on the plasma therapy were ongoing, “there have been some historical evidence” already on its efficacy.
China and South Korea have used the procedure to treat patients.
“With the right machine and assay, we can quantify the IgM and IgG in the plasma,” Hinunangan said, referring to the Immunoglobulin plasma levels. “We have to trust our experts, our doctors who take all the information and process all clinical and laboratory data to make a sound decision.”
In seeking for more donors from among the country’s recovered patients, Hinunangan said they also “want to dispel the stigma, and let people know that we should strive to find solutions and be informed of facts to avoid irrational fear and discrimination of our fellow Filipinos battling COVID-19.”