A local man who recovered from COVID-19 praises the use of convalescent plasma in his treatment while a patient at Chambersburg Hospital in April.
Colby Shearer, Chambersburg, was frightened after testing positive for the virus in April. He had heard it could be deadly.
“When I started to feel sick, I had a fever, stuffy nose,” Shearer said. “Then I began to have shortness of breath and knew I should go to the hospital.”
Shearer was tested for COVID-19 after checking in at WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital.
“I was scared,” he remembers. “I heard the things on the news about the virus and how serious it can be.”
Separation from his family also caused anxiety.
Shearer was admitted to the hospital and put on oxygen to support his breathing. He would be a good candidate to receive convalescent plasma, he was told.
Convalescent plasma treatments are working
WellSpan has treated over 140 COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma so far, as part of a national expanded access program.
For patients like Shearer, the treatment can prevent symptoms related to the virus from getting worse, and possibly deadly.
In this approach, a person who has recovered from COVID-19 donates blood. Patients get the liquid part of the blood, along with its antibodies, through a transfusion. 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 the community. 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. (We) have long seen the benefits for the community when we work together to provide the care and services needed in Franklin County,” WellSpan President and CEO Roxanna Gapstur said. “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,” Keystone’s President/CEO Joanne Cochran said. “WellSpan and Keystone Health will work together to provide our community high-quality, cost-effective and patient-centered care.”
Community Health Centers like Keystone can be an important partner for hospital systems, Cochran said. Both health care delivery systems seek out new methods to improve health outcomes in the community, making partnerships vital.
Sharing resources, partnering for community
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 at Chambersburg Hospital as the virus progressed in the community.
His expertise helped 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,” said Dr. Tirupathi.
That proved to be the case with COVID-1.
“So far, we’ve seen several patients at WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital who have had positive changes in their condition when using this treatment,” Tirupathi said. “It is rewarding to see patients who are very sick get better, and ultimately leave the hospital.”
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,” Dr. Tirupathi said.
Donors are screened first to make sure they have fully recovered fom the disease and are symptomless. Appointment times ensure proper spacing for the donors.
Shearer shared kind words for the donor whose plasma he received, in hopes others might consider giving to the program. he is considering plasma donation himself.
“First, I’d say thank you. (The transfusion) really helped me and may have been a life saver,” he said. “I was expecting the worst.”
For resources on how you can donate plasma, visit WellSpan’s donation information page.
About WellSpan Health
WellSpan Health is an integrated health system that serves the communities of central Pennsylvania and northern Maryland. The organization has more than 1,600 employed physicians and advanced practice clinicians; a regional behavioral health organization; a home care organization; eight hospitals; approximately 20,000 employees, and more than 200 patient care locations. WellSpan is a charitable, mission-driven organization, committed to exceptional care for all, lifelong wellness and healthy communities.
About Keystone Health
Keystone Health is a public 501(c)3 not-for-profit corporation. It provides family medicine, internal medicine, pediatric, obstetric, gynecological, cardiac, behavioral, urgent care, pharmacy, HIV/STD, family planning, podiatry, chiropractic, audiology and speech, pediatric occupational therapy, dental health services and, when needed, social services to anyone in the community including the underserved and vulnerable populations.
Keystone offers 24/7 crisis intervention services through the Keystone Crisis Intervention Program.
The health care organization also offers primary care services to migrant and seasonal farmworkers at locations across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.