A Positive Outcome: Donating Plasma After COVID-19
Jul 24, 2020 Cedars-Sinai Staff
In March, while he isolated at home after testing positive for COVID-19, Jesse Erdek did his research. He dug deep into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website and pored over articles and scientific studies about the disease.
"I immediately felt a duty to donate."
One news story, sent to Jesse by a friend, gave him a lot to look forward to in his recovery: It explained studies into the use of convalescent plasma, from the blood of recovered COVID-19 patients, as a potential treatment.
"I immediately felt a duty to donate," he says.
A long path to diagnosis
Around March 2, weeks before physical distancing guidelines went into effect, Jesse, 32, came down with a sore throat after a small birthday gathering. About a week after that, he lost his sense of smell.
Jesse is an active hiker, healthy and attuned to how his body reacts when he gets sick. He'd never lost his smell before.
"I thought, 'That's weird, I'm sure it will come back and it's just the tail end of a cold,'" he says.
But two weeks later, still unable to smell or taste, he became suspicious when he read that loss of smell was identified as a COVID-19 symptom. He never developed a fever or flu-like symptoms, and at the time of his illness he technically didn't qualify for a test under health department guidelines.
But late in March, at a follow-up with his primary care physician, Jesse spoke with a nurse who had also read about the correlation between loss of smell and COVID-19. She ordered a test, which came back positive.
Jesse, who had been repeatedly performing blind taste and smell tests on himself as he became worried about permanently losing his senses, was relieved to find an explanation in his positive test.
He had already been self-isolating, so he continued the course.
"I wasn't going to be the one who didn't do the right thing," he says. "I would've loved to have had a beer with my friends, but I know we need to be abundantly cautious and respectful of something we don't understand."
Recovery and donation
Jesse's senses slowly returned, and he recovered from COVID-19 feeling fine. He considers himself fortunate he didn't develop a more severe form of the disease, though he's concerned about possible long-term consequences.
Also, he's really worried for those with more serious cases. On the day he got clearance from his doctor, he spent hours on the phone calling blood banks and hospitals, seeking a way to donate blood to research.
When he reached Cedars-Sinai, an operator familiar with the studies put him in contact with Blood Donor Services. In May, Jesse donated his plasma for use in one of several ongoing studies.
The process takes about an hour and is similar to a regular blood donation.
"If this has even a 1% chance of helping somebody beat this thing, I was doing the world a disservice if I didn't," he says. "To know I could potentially have a profound impact on people who are struggling was a no-brainer for me."