Canadian Blood Services asks former COVID-19 patients to donate plasma

Canadian Blood Services needs more people who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate plasma for a project that could potentially help others suffering from the respiratory illness.

The project called CONOR, is trying to figure out if plasma from previous COVID-19 patients could provide antibodies to help current patients fight the disease more effectively. Blood plasma is the straw-coloured liquid component left when blood cells are removed from whole blood.

Sixty Canadian hospitals are involved in the research, including The Ottawa Hospital.

About 1,200 Canadians have registered to donate their plasma and a few dozen have already made donations — but Canadian Blood Services says they always need more volunteers.

In order to determine if the treatment works, the trial eventually needs to inject 1,200 COVID-19 patients with the convalescent plasma, said Dana Devine, chief scientist at Canadian Blood Services.

“In order for us to provide the plasma to support all those trials, we figured that we really need about 1,800 people in our collection space,” she said.

“The first two patients that were done in Ontario, my understanding from secondhand, is that those patients are doing well….I’m not sure what that means against anything else, but at least nothing bad has happened to the first two.”

Ottawa man lends an arm

Ernie Cecchetto was the first person to donate plasma in Ottawa, according to Canadian Blood Services. He tested positive for COVID-19 after a trip to Mexico in March. He says the illness was like nothing he had experienced before.

Ernie Cecchetto was the first in Ottawa to donate plasma for COVID-19 treatment. (Submitted by Ernie Cecchetto)

“I liken it to a paralysis of the lungs,” he said. “Like your lungs, [your] ability to oxygenate your blood, is just not there.”

Cecchetto says donating was the easiest thing he could do to help.

“What tears you up is seeing all the stories about the front-line workers, nurses and doctors, that get this COVID because they’re exposed to so much virus, and their bodies can’t fight it,” he said

“When I heard about this program, understanding that I probably developed a certain amount of the antibodies, it’s incumbent on me to do something.”

Not everyone can donate plasma to the program. Donors must be younger than 67, have had a confirmed test for COVID-19 and be symptom free for at least 28 days.

For now, only men are able to donate because women may carry antibodies related to pregnancy which can react in a patient causing lung injury. Canadian Blood Services plans to screen for this soon, so women can still register to donate.


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