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Innovative approach: Convalescent plasma aids COVID-19 recovery at WellSpan hospitals

June 24, 2020

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Colby Shearer, of Chambersburg, was treated for COVID-19 using convalescent plasma.

Colby Shearer, of Chambersburg, was treated for COVID-19 using convalescent plasma.

As part of a national expanded access program, more than 140 COVID-19 patients have been treated with convalescent plasma inside WellSpan hospitals. For patients like Colby Shearer of Chambersburg, the treatment can prevent symptoms related to the virus from getting worse, and possibly deadly.

"When I started to feel sick, I had a fever, stuffy nose," said Shearer "Then I began to have shortness of breath and knew I should go to the hospital."

When he arrived at WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital in April, Shearer was immediately tested for COVID-19.

"When I tested positive, I was scared," recalled Shearer. "I heard the things on the news about the virus and how serious it can be, and I also couldn’t be with my family."

Shearer was admitted to the hospital and needed oxygen to support his breathing. He was also told he would be a good candidate to receive convalescent plasma.

In this approach, a person who has recovered from COVID-19 donates blood. Through a transfusion, the liquid part of the blood is given to the recipient patient, where the antibodies developed by the donor help the recipient fight the infection. Shearer said he felt better right away.

"Almost immediately after the plasma treatment I felt better," said Shearer. "I was able to go off the oxygen and eventually go home."

A life-saving partnership

In Franklin County, the convalescent plasma treatments are the fruit of a long-standing partnership between Keystone Health and WellSpan Health. The two systems have long worked side-by-side to care for members of the community, but the COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the need for continued collaboration to educate the community about symptoms, develop standard testing protocol across the county, and to better understand the needs of those battling the virus.

"We have always placed great value on our strong partnership with Keystone Health and have long seen the benefits for the community when we work together to provide the care and services needed in Franklin County," explained WellSpan President and CEO, Roxanna Gapstur, Ph.D., R.N.  "During this pandemic we leaned into that partnership and worked together to determine how we could share resources and approach."

"This is but one example of our partnership with WellSpan," notes Joanne Cochran, President and CEO of Keystone Health. "Community Health Centers, like Keystone Health, are uniquely positioned to be an important partner for hospital systems as health care delivery systems seek out new methods to improve health outcomes. WellSpan and Keystone Health will work together to provide our community high-quality, cost-effective and patient-centered care."

An instance of sharing resources came in the form of knowledge. Dr. Raghavendra Tirupathi, an infectious disease specialist employed by Keystone Health, provided care to patients and counsel to teams within WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital as the virus progressed in the community. His expertise was used to develop the convalescent plasma treatment program with experts from WellSpan.

"For a long time, in medicine, we’ve believed people who have had a virus create antibodies in their blood as they fight off disease. This also is the case for COVID-19," said Dr. Tirupathi. "So far, we’ve seen several patients at WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital who have had positive changes in their condition when using this treatment. It is rewarding to see patients who are very sick get better, and ultimately leave the hospital."

Donors needed

The Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank, WellSpan Health and Keystone Health are asking community members who have recovered from COVID-19 to consider donating their plasma to the program.

"Blood and plasma donation are very safe," said Dr. Tirupathi. "Donors are screened before donation to make sure they have recovered from their symptoms, and appointment times ensure proper spacing for the donors."

While he is considering plasma donation, Shearer shared kind words for the donor whose plasma he received, in hopes others might consider giving to the program.

"First, I’d say thank you. It really helped me and may have been a life saver. I was expecting the worst."

For resources on how you can donate plasma, visit our donation information page.