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Defending the Homeland: Fort Knox Safety Official Donates COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma to Help Others

Woman sitting in chair giving blood Steve Holton (left), explains to Wendy Steinhoff how the process of apheresis works. Her whole blood is captured in the middle bag, and then separated into red blood cells in the right bag and plasma into the left bag. At a certain time in the process her red blood cells, along with saline, are pushed back into her vein. (Photo by Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox Public Affairs.)

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"The COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Collection Program (CCP) is a Department of Defense effort to collect 10,000 units of convalescent plasma donated by members of the military community who have recovered from the disease. Convalescent plasma will be used to treat critically ill patients and to support the development of an effective treatment against the disease. Eligible donors should contact the Armed Services Blood Program at https://www.militaryblood.dod.mil/Donors/COVID-19andBloodDonation.aspx to find a complete list of available collection centers."

A safety specialist from Fort Knox said a recent doctor's visit started her on a path toward donating convalescent plasma to help treat others with COVID-19.

''I went in to see my doctor for something, and he asked me if I would be willing to do an antibody test,'' Wendy Steinhoff said. ''He came back and said that I have had COVID-19 before.''

Steinhoff said she was surprised to find out that she had contracted COVID-19, especially since according to her doctor it was most likely sometime in December.

''He was looking at my chart and said, 'The only time you've been sick is back in December,''' she continued. ''Back then, I had asked him to give me something to help me sleep because I was coughing a lot when I laid down. So that's when he thinks I had it.''

After discovering she had the antibody within her, Steinhoff's doctor asked if she would consider donating plasma. She contacted Hardin Memorial Hospital in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and they pointed her toward the American Red Cross.

Steve Holton, a collection specialist and a site supervisor for the East End Louisville American Red Cross Blood Donation Center, said they are the only facility in a 270-mile radius that can separate plasma from blood during the same visit.

Called apheresis, the process involves a machine that uses three bags to collect and separate the plasma from the blood. The middle bag collects her whole blood, which includes red blood cells, platelets and plasma. The machine then separates the components into three bags.

The collection is complete once the machine collects 650 units of plasma. Steinhoff's June 21 collection process took about 20 minutes, and the entire process lasted a little more than an hour.

Holton said requests for convalescent plasma to combat COVID-19 started coming in about three months ago, after the Food and Drug Administration requested them. Since then, that center averages 16 to 30 donations a week. “Researchers did a lot of testing, and they've been having a lot of success,'' Holton said.

Recent success has resulted in the American Red Cross conducting an antibody test with every blood donation made at the center.

''We require that everybody comes in to donate blood first just to see if they have the COVID-19 antibodies,'' Holton said. ''If they are positive for the antibodies, we prefer them to be placed on this machine.'' Once the plasma reaches St. Louis, Missouri officials designate where the need is greatest.

Holton explained that those willing to donate their plasma can do so every 28 days. If they go through the Red Cross to schedule a donation, the site actually tells them where the donation goes to help others.

Steinhoff said she’s hoping to continue donating her plasma as long as the need is there.

''It's a self-fulfillment for me,'' she said. ''We should do our part to help other people whenever we can.''

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