Hospital policy sign on window

I volunteered to donate plasma to help coronavirus (Covid-19) patients, because I tested positive for coronavirus antibodies.

I registered to donate at several places (see full list of opportunities here). Yesterday was my first visit to a donation site.

I went to Stony Brook University Medical Center’s outpatient location in Stony Brook, N.Y. The wait was fairly long, but the people there were appreciative of my energy (this is a little over an hour’s drive from my house).

Stony Brook Medicine location exterior

The setting: A low-slung building in an office park in Stony Brook, Long Island. Behind a Vitamin Shoppe, a Red Tiger Dumpling House and Splendid Noodle takeout. Near to a Starbucks and a Duane Reade. Long Island is really big. And the parking lot was really empty.

The protocol: Having registered online and then taken a phone intake interview, I drove out and checked in at the site. The nurse at the front door asked me to wait in my car until I was called.

hospital policy sign

Their paperwork: “This research is being done to test the treatment potential and safety of giving a transfusion of blood plasma containing antibodies against COVID-19 (obtained from someone who has recovered from COVID-19 infection) to hospitalized patients with active COVID-19 infection.” See consent form first page below.

The plan for the first visit: I sign consents, they explain the protocol and the ups and the downs. They take a medical history, then do a fast blood test to see if I have antibodies making me eligible to donate. The fast test is a finger stick (left ring finger, which is what they did at the earlier one) to sample a small bit of blood for signs. If the fast test shows antibodies, they do a second draw of blood for further study. Then we schedule a visit for me to donate, and they call between first, screening visit and scheduled donation, to let me know if it’s on or off, depending on their further research.

What happened: On the fast test, they told me I have antibodies but not enough to donate plasma yet. They asked if I’d return in a week, and I said, “Sure.” I’m scheduled to go back May 20.
plasma donor consent

What do they mean about not enough antibodies? Watch this powerpoint video presentation from Columbia University professor Sam Sia about antibody development. His part starts around Minute 31. They didn’t give me firm numbers, but told me that if I call back the next day, I can probably access in the Stony Brook records system.

The test: They told me it was made by ChemBio, one of the sponsors of the trial. For this initial, fast test, they did the finger-stick and put the blood in the ChemBio device, supplied by the manufacturer. “It’s almost like a pregnancy test,” a coordinator told me. “They insert the tool into the machine and it quantities the IGM and IGG,” the two antibodies that this test samples for.

The actual results: I asked for them on the spot, and they said I’d have to contact their records department.

Update: I went back on May 20, and they told me I was still positive, but that my antibodies had gone down, making me ineligible to donate.

Why did I volunteer? The positive blood test I describe here, from April 25, makes me a good candidate to donate.

What else happened: When I came home, I felt hot and found a 101-degree temp at 7:30 — first time I’ve had anything above 99.1 since this all started.

Update: While the ChemBio test lost its emergency use authorization from the F.D.A. after my test was done, the head of the Stony Brook program told me in a phone interview that the F.D.A. had concerns about the test’s performance at the lower end — IgG values around 25 or so — but not at the level mine was (127) or the level they use for a cutoff (300). The scientist. Dr. Elliott Bennett-Guerrero, said the chances are very slim that mine is a false positive.

Weill-Cornell and Columbia Presbyterian

I also signed up to participate in a plasma donation trial at Weill-Cornell and Columbia Presbyterian. They called for a screening, which I did the day after the Stony Brook visit. We went through the consent form on the phone — and then I got a surprise.

In this study, according to the screener, they are taking only people who tested positive on the nasal swab test for now. He did say that the study’s scientists have requested — and expect to receive — permission to include people with positive antibody tests. He said I’ll probably hear from another screener when that permission has been granted and is in effect.

I mentioned that it’s hard to get a swab test, and the tests are not that reliable (with a lot of false negatives) and he said “yes, we know that.”

(Update: They emailed June 12, 2020, to say that they had stored as many units as they could, and given the fact that the pandemic seems to be waning, they’re not testing or collecting any more.)

One negative antibody test

Meanwhile, my daughter (who lives with me) and I both tested negative on the  antibody test at CityMD, the urgent care chain here in the New York area. That test was on Sunday, May 10; results came Tuesday, May 12. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s three positive tests for me and one negative one. We have written a lot about how accurate these tests are; details here. 

Update: I have now tested positive four times for antibodies and negative twice. Find details here. 

Did you test positive, or do you want to donate? Here are some places to go.

Read our other coronavirus (Covid-19) coverage here.

Jeanne Pinder

Jeanne Pinder  is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded...