An experimental technique to rescue a sinking COVID-19 patient found success in Kerala, with the 51-year-old man taken off the ventilator four days after doctors saved his life through convalescent plasma collection.
The therapy involves separation of antibodies from a person cured of the novel coronavirus and its subsequent infusion into the vein of the COVID-19 patient in a critical condition. Performed as a medical emergency, the technique was employed at the Government Medical College (GMC) in Thrissur, making it the first such instance in the State that has earned worldwide acclaim in its battling the pandemic.
The benefactor was a native who had returned from New Delhi. He tested positive for COVID-19 on June 6 and faced acute respiratory complications five days later, warranting the use of a ventilator. On June 11 night, the patient underwent the convalescent plasma collection therapy that lasted till daybreak.
“The procedure requires volunteers who have recovered from COVID-19 and are above the age of 18. They can donate plasma, the yellowish liquid component of the blood, between the first and fourth months after cure,” said Dr M.A. Andrews, principal of the GMC, 90 km north of this city. “The therapy has proven its potential to give the COVID-19 patient a fresh lease of life.”
The beneficiary, taken off the ventilator on June 15 evening, is recuperating in the Intensive Care Unit after being put on ventilator for six days.
Convalescent plasma therapy relies on an apparatus called apheresis that separates out the plasma from the donor’s blood. Unlike the usual blood donation, the remainder here returns to the donor’s circulation.
“In one go, we take 400 grams of plasma. And transfuse it into the COVID-19 patient in two phases of 200 grams each,” said Dr Andrews. “The therapy has absolutely no side effects.”
At GMC Thrissur, last week’s convalescent plasma therapy was carried out by personnel of the GMC’s departments of medicine, transfusion medicine and anaesthesia. The team also administered the immunosuppressive drug Tocilizumab (also known as atlizumab) typically used to treat arthritis.
The 1982-founded GMC Thrissur got its apheresis machine in May. The volunteer can afford to use the state-of-the-art equipment just 48 hours after one round of plasma donation.