Doctor recovering from COVID-19 swears by plasma treatment, urges fellow patients to donate

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 01 2020 05:01 PM | Updated as of May 01 2020 05:25 PM

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MANILA — A young doctor who became severely ill from COVID-19 said she might have recovered with the help of plasma transfusion. 

Now she wants to help other patients by sharing her story, and encourage fellow patients to donate plasma to help those who are ill. 

Dr. Carmina Fuentebella, who was working at the emergency room of the University of Santo Tomas Hospital, fell sick on April 4 and ended up being intubated and hooked to a mechanical ventilator.

She was 26 years old then and did not have any pre-existing medical conditions.

“I was surprised because it’s not common (for a young person to experience such severe symptoms),” she told ABS-CBN News in an interview.

Her severe condition prompted relatives and friends to post on social media and call for prayers. Her story ended up going viral with many groups and individuals pledging prayers for her recovery.

She was intubated for 11 days and was given all sorts of experimental drugs but her health vastly improved after receiving a convalescent plasma transfusion from a COVID-19 survivor.

“Three days after plasma was given, my oxygenation status improved. Eventually my chest x-rays were normal. We were not sure if it was the plasma because multiple interventions were given, but it was the immediate intervention given prior to improvement was the plasma,” Fuentebella said.

“It (plasma therapy) may have been what cured me. And I hope those who recovered already can help patients in critical condition like me,” she added.

By her 27th birthday on April 24, she was already feeling well enough to celebrate.

Plasma is the yellow-colored liquid portion of the blood that contains antibodies. COVID-19 survivors would have these antibodies that are supposed to be able to help patients who are still in critical condition.

Dr. Flordeluna Zapata-Mesina, a hematologist and member of the Philippine College of Hematology and Transfusion Medicine, told ABS-CBN News that convalescent plasma is not a new treatment. It has been used during past epidemics such as the Spanish Flu and the Ebola outbreak.

“There are also small studies from China showing its positive effect on COVID patients,” she said.

Mesina said plasma is extracted from a qualified donor and then transfused to a patient.

“Convalescent plasma may not work for all COVID-19 patients,” she explained. “There should be proper timing…it should be given before the virus has damaged any of the patient’s organs.”

She said it is best given around Day 9 or until Day 21 since the onset of symptoms.

The treatment, she said, is especially helpful for severe cases.

The World Health Organization earlier said that a plasma transfusion can serve as a boost to the patient’s immunity.

An interim guidance document released by the WHO in March noted that convalescent plasma or plasma from a recovered patient “may be a potentially useful treatment for COVID-19." However, it also warned of the need to run a detailed risk assessment to ensure the safety of the process.


Mesina said while convalescent plasma therapy holds promise, hospitals are not getting enough donors. This, even after the Philippine General Hospital started its clinical trials and generated a lot of public interest.

Besides PGH and St. Luke’s Medical Center, Mesina said a group of hospitals and the Philippine College of Hematology and Transfusion Medicine also started their own clinical trials. The group is composed of the following hospitals: Makati Medical Center, Cardinal Santos Medical Center, UST Hospital, The Medical City, Asian Hospital And Medical Center, Jose B. Lingad Regional Medical Center, and UERM Memorial Medical Center.

“We think the reason why we have a low blood donation rate is because of the quarantine. Not all of our donors have vehicles. If the LGUs can offer free rides for blood donors that would be helpful,” Mesina said, adding that they are hoping that local government units can assist.

Fuentebella herself had a hard time getting a donor that matched her blood type.


To ensure the safety of the procedure, donors will have to pass their screening.

Mesina said they those who are allowed to donate should show proof that they had COVID-19 and that they already tested negative. They should also not have any symptoms for the last 14 days.

The same standards for blood donors will also be required: having a weight of at least 50 kilos, having normal blood pressure and blood sugar and not having any illness such as hepatitis or HIV.

Mesina assured the public that donors will undergo thorough screening, which includes an initial blood test, to ensure that their blood is safe to use.

For now, they use fresh plasma donations to get optimal results. 

The doctor said the only negative effect of the treatment are allergies from the blood transfusion or the very rare occurrence of acute lung injury.

Mesina assured the public that precautions and proper screening are done to ensure that both donor and patient won’t have any problems. Patients are also asked for their informed consent before the transfusion.


With limited transportation, Mesina said they are also in dire need of regular blood donations. They are calling on local government units and groups to assist in blood drives as demand for blood in hospitals remain the same but supply is below than required. 

COVID-19 survivors who want to donate plasma may contact the hospitals’ blood banks through the following numbers: 
Makati Medical Center - (02)8 888 8999 loc 3016
Cardinal Santos Medical Center - (02)8 727 0001 loc 4105
UST Hospital - (02)8 731 3001 loc 2395
The Medical City - (02)8 988 1000 loc 6108
Asian Hospital And Medical Center (02)8 771 9000 loc 5789 or 0917 8048587 
Jose B. Lingad Regional Medical Center - (045) 9613363
UERM Memorial Medical Center - (02)8 751 0861 loc 235

They may also contact the PCHTMC Facebook Page for more details.