MUSC Health Performs Lowcountry's First Plasma Transfusion to Treat COVID-19

Staff Report From Charleston CEO

Friday, April 24th, 2020

Physicians at the MUSC Health University Medical Center successfully infused their first COVID-19 patient with convalescent plasma on April 18. The patient is the first person in the Lowcountry and only the second person in South Carolina to receive this investigational therapy, which took place less than 24 hours after the blood product was provided by a compatible donor.

COVID-19 is the illness caused by the coronavirus. Working with its telehealth platform, MUSC Health established a system to identify potential blood plasma donors by reaching out to COVID-19 patients who were initially screened by MUSC Health Virtual Urgent Care and tested positive for COVID-19. They were asked to consider plasma donation. Former patients spoke directly with MUSC Health physicians who could answer their questions about the process and also explain the value of convalescent plasma donations as a treatment to help critically ill COVID-19 patients. 

Plasma is the liquid in blood that contains antibodies made by the body’s immune system to attack viruses. A recovered COVID-19 patient’s plasma can be transfused into a current COVID-19 patient, which might provide some relief for the patient during the course of the disease or reduce complications. 

MUSC has joined Mayo Clinic’s Expanded Access Program to provide convalescent plasma for patients who are severely suffering from COVID-19. MUSC’s involvement is part of a multidisciplinary effort led by John Wrangle, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Hematology and Oncology. Wrangle has worked closely with pulmonologists and other physicians on the front line of care, researchers and regulatory experts, telemedicine staff and other specialists to establish this program quickly.

“There’s reason to believe that this may be an effective therapy for COVID-19 patients,” said Wrangle. “We feel that ensuring an opportunity for people to recover from this infection is critical to creating a vast supply or inventory of plasma so that anyone in the state can draw from it when needed.”

MUSC is partnering with the American Red Cross and the Blood Connection, a statewide blood bank, to collect and process plasma from approved COVID-19-recovered patients for this FDA-authorized treatment. 

“Providing this centuries-old, yet still pioneering, treatment enables MUSC Health to treat our most critically ill COVID-19 patients with antibody-rich plasma that our recovered patients developed to fight the virus. This will allow the immune systems of our sickest patients an opportunity to ramp and fight the virus. I could not be prouder of our MUSC Health care team, in collaboration with our MUSC researchers, for working so hard to bring this and numerous other inventive options to fruition,” said Patrick J. Cawley, M.D., MUSC Health CEO and vice president for Health Affairs, University. “As the state’s only academic health sciences center, we must perpetually think outside the box in terms of ways in which we can substantially and rapidly help the community and state during this unprecedented time.”  

People who are interested in donating plasma should check with their health care provider (physician who ordered their COVID-19 RNA test), who will refer them to the Blood Connection or the American Red Cross to arrange for a blood plasma donation. Donors must have recovered from COVID-19 and must be 28 days free of symptoms after testing positive. Every donation is important. One donor can help up to four patients suffering from the COVID-19.