Innovative Plasma Treatment for COVID-19 Helps Sioux Falls Man Head Home
Somchanh Sengchanh started the month of April 2020 with a rattling cough and a test for COVID-19. It confirmed a positive result, he quarantined at home, but in a week, breathing problems started.
“It was really scary. I was tired, the coughing was really bad, I had a fever and the breathing trouble came,” said Sengchanh, a 60-year-old Sioux Falls resident. “My son called the ambulance and they took me to Avera McKennan to the emergency room. The doctor said I would have to stay.”
A few days later he was in a bed in the hospital’s intensive care unit, afraid of what might come next.
“Just a few days after I went to the ICU, they asked me if I wanted to try something new, and I said OK,” he said. “It was a one-hour procedure. I thought what do I have to lose?” The IV treatment started at 11 a.m.
“By 2 p.m., I just felt so much better. I was hoping it would help, but I did not know it’d be so fast,” Sengchanh said. Just a couple of days later, he went home. “We celebrated because I was so hungry. I had not been that hungry in a long time. My wife made my favorite noodle soup.”
The treatment that helped him so much was convalescent plasma therapy. Avera is taking part in a study that provides expanded access to convalescent plasma for the treatment of patients with the COVID-19 virus. Federal government agencies are supporting the event and the Mayo Clinic is serving as the lead institution.
At Avera, the Principle Investigator for the study is Dr. Vinod Parameswaran. He is working with experts from hematology, research teams from cancer, the Avera Institute for Human Genetics, along with bone-marrow transplant coordinators and the members of the Avera Center for Pediatric & Community Research. Avera infectious disease, blood bank and laboratory teams also are coordinating the effort, as well as Avera Medical Group physician leaders.
Avera is currently contacting recovering COVID-19 virus patients to see if they would be willing to donate plasma. Donated plasma is also available to participating hospitals like Avera from the American Red Cross and Mayo Clinic.
One person who responded was Carin Yale of Sioux Falls.
“I just figured it was seasonal allergies and I just need to take some Zyrtec. But the next morning – a Saturday – I woke up with a cough,” Yale said. “By Monday, the coughing was pretty severe. Lots of barky, dry hacking coughs. I could not stand up straight sometimes.”
She tested positive for COVID-19, and she quarantined at home, which was tough, hearing her husband and children in the house, but not able to see, hug or hold them, except to feed her baby, Iris.
“One morning I just woke up and I felt like 75% better. As bad as it was – it felt like a really bad cold, but I do think I have had worse,” she said. “I came off isolation April 6, on my birthday. I went right to my kids and husband and gave them big hugs. We went for a little drive to celebrate.”
Yale continued her recovery and then heard about the plasma treatment innovation that was taking place. “I reached out to the blood bank, and I told them I have been healthy enough and I really wanted to get in on the effort. My main goal was to help other people,” said Yale. “To be honest, I work for Avera but I am not patient-facing. I am an administrator, and I feel like a part of my team, but not on a clinical level. This is my way of participating in the fight against COVID-19 and the search for effective treatment.”
Yale said the procedure was simple and outside of the somewhat-unpleasant nature of the nasal-swab testing for COVID-19, nothing else was hard. For patient privacy, recipients do not know who their donors are, and vice versa – donors do not know the patient their donation went to help. Plasma donations go through the same rigorous processes of screening and testing that blood donations do for the safety of donors and recipients.
“Patients who have recovered from the COVID-19 virus have antibodies in their blood that could be beneficial to patients who are still fighting the most severe symptoms of this illness,” said Vinod Parameswaran, MD, Avera Medical Group hematologist. “Blood plasma therapy has been used from time to time over the last century. We are excited to be part of this major health initiative. We have people who are re-purposing their skills in innovative ways to make it happen.”
Anyone who has had a positive test for COVID-19 and has now recovered from the illness is a potential plasma donor to help COVID-19 patients. They can call the Center for Pediatric and Community Research at 605-504-3154 or email COVID19Plasma@avera.org to learn more about donating blood plasma. Patients can only receive this treatment if they are hospitalized. Interested patients should ask their attending physician.
“When people have asked me about it, I tell them how much it helped me,” Sengchanh said. “I’m still recovering, but so thankful to have the plasma treatment.”
Yale said she hopes more people donate and that the research continues to help those in need.
“I have elderly parents. If this is something that helps lead to more knowledge of the disease and helps keep my dad out of the ICU, I don’t mind giving that 45 minutes,” she said. “It’s a very minor thing when you consider the possible benefits.”
Getting vaccinated is the best way to stay safe in the face of COVID-19. It's now available to everyone 5 and older.