PEORIA Convalescent plasma, which is providing a little hope for central Illinois’ sickest COVID-19 patients, is in short supply.


Please consider donating plasma if you are a recovered COVID-19 patient, said Dr. Teresa Lynch, interim department chair at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria.


"Please give us the opportunity to provide our patients and their families a little bit of hope," she said during a phone interview Wednesday. "We don’t have a lot of hopeful things to offer our patients in the ICU because there’s just not a lot else to do."


Lynch is a hospitalist and an internal medicine doctor who has been working with COVID-19 patients at OSF HealthCare St. Francis Medical Center as part of her role as director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program at UICOMP.


It’s been a difficult road without many bright moments. In late April doctors started using convalescent plasma through a federal program run by Mayo Clinic, and while it’s not been a magic bullet, a couple patients have shown dramatic improvement. One patient whose oxygen levels had dropped dangerously low and was about to be put on a ventilator improved greatly after being given the infusion. Another patient, who had been on a ventilator in the intensive care unit for about three weeks, began breathing on their own within 48 hours of receiving the infusion. The recovery was remarkable because so few COVID-19 patients get better after being put on a ventilator, said Lynch.


"Once you end up on a ventilator the risk of mortality is very, very high," she said. "What happens is that it’s no longer the infectious process, it’s an acute respiratory distress syndrome or this hyperimmune response that causes a lot of inflammation within the lungs that requires the ventilator, and it’s very hard to recover from that."


The patient’s recovery provided a much-needed win for medical staff.


"We had kind of a big hurrah," said Lynch. "It was a big deal for nursing staff, for residents who were up there training, for everybody. Even our research staff was excited that we had this great outcome."


OSF St. Francis Medical Center and UnityPoint Health Methodist are both getting plasma through the Expanded Access Program for convalescent plasma to fight COVID-19, which is being led by researchers at Mayo Clinic.


"We are registered providers in that program, which means we report data on the patients we enroll," said Lynch. "Ultimately the data from all those different sites should come together so that we will have a better understanding of just how plasma helps these patients. There are some studies that have given us some information, but they’ve been small. Hopefully this will give a much more robust data on how plasma helps patients."


The use of convalescent plasma to treat infectious diseases is not new. Plasma has been used to treat other diseases, including SARS and MERS, cousins of COVID-19.


"So we do have some data that plasma has been an effective treatment for these types of infectious diseases in the past, and that the risk to patients is sort of akin to a transfusion risk," said Lynch.


As a brand new treatment, the supply of convalescent plasma for COVID-19 patients is low. There have been times when medical staff have been afraid to mention the treatment option to patients and family for fear that they wouldn’t be able to procure any plasma. That’s why Lynch spoke at the Peoria City/County Health Department daily COVID-19 press briefing on Tuesday to get the word out to recovered COVID-19 patients. Potential donors should call (309) 413-1003, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to speak with a qualified health professional who can answer questions and determine if they are eligible to donate.


Joshua White, 38, a Glasford resident who was diagnosed with COVID-19 in mid-March, jumped at the opportunity to donate plasma. Though White experienced shortness of breath and fever, he was able to fight off COVID-19 at home in about a week and a half.


"I like to volunteer for things that help out," said White during a phone interview Wednesday evening, a few hours after making his donation. "So I was kind of excited when UnityPoint called me and said there’s blood banks looking for possible donors who have survived COVID 19. They explained that my antibodies could possibly help people who couldn’t fight it off themselves."


White donated plasma at the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center in Peoria. From start to finish it took about two hours. His donation will likely help three sick patients.


"I was excited because now I finally had a way that I could help in a meaningful way," he said. "It made me feel like getting sick was worth it, if I get to help someone else who can’t get over it by themselves."


Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or lrenken@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.