A “perfect storm” in San Antonio’s fight against the coronavirus has led to a crucial need for convalescent plasma, according to a UT Health San Antonio physician.

“We’re going through a surge and we really need more donors,” said Leslie Greebon, MD, director of transfusion medicine at University Hospital and an assistant professor of pathology and medicine at UT Health San Antonio.

Convalescent plasma is plasma from someone who has been infected with the virus but recovered.

“Those people have created antibodies that are protective, hopefully, of that person in the future,” Dr. Greebon said. “If you take that person who’s created those antibodies and transfuse their plasma into somebody who is acutely ill right now and who hasn’t made their own antibodies, the hope is that the antibodies will help that patient recover faster.”

University Hospital, UT Health San Antonio’s teaching hospital and partner, was part of a clinical trial involving remdesivir, an antiviral medication shown to be effective against COVID-19. A phase of the trial ended in late June, the same time COVID-19 cases skyrocketed in San Antonio, across the state and much of the country.

With little remdesivir available, doctors turned to convalescent plasma, itself in short supply, as an alternative therapy.

Dr. Greebon said University Hospital’s blood supplier, South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, is having to import convalescent plasma from across the country, particularly the Northeast. That can lead to a gap in care.

“Sometimes the patient doesn’t have any treatment available to them for days” as the hospital awaits delivery of convalescent plasma, she said.

As of July 9, 85 coronavirus patients at University Hospital were receiving convalescent plasma transfusions, and the number is rising.

While scientists and doctors aren’t sure how effective convalescent plasma will be against COVID-19, “there is hope since the physiologic and immunologic principles of this therapy are logical and it has been proven to be a useful therapy for other similar diseases,” Dr. Greebon said.

If you tested positive for COVID-19 and have recovered, you may be able to help others by donating plasma. Contact the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center at 210-731-2719 or COVID19@southtexasblood.org.