It wasn’t exactly the way they planned to spend Thanskgiving, but recovering from the COVID-19 virus allowed Tony Throne of Litchfield to help others celebrate future Thanksgivings with their families.
Since recovering from COVID, Throne has started donating plasma to the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center in Springfield to be used as a treatment for critically ill COVID patients.
“I just think it’s a great way to give back and help save a life,” said his wife, Vickie. “That’s why he’s doing it.”
Their story starts Thanksgiving week when Tony came down with what they thought was a sinus infection, including a stuffy nose. On Wednesday of that week, he went to the chiropractor and ran some errands. But when he got home, his wife was making preparations for the Thanksgiving meal, and he realized he couldn’t smell anything.
“I was cutting up an onion, and he couldn’t smell it,” Vickie said. “It happened so fast. He could still smell at his chiropractor’s appointment. But as soon as he lost his sense of smell, we knew it was COVID.”
Tony would get tested on Thanksgiving Day and find out he was positive for COVID on Saturday. Vickie started to feel ill as well, and the doctor told her that since Tony was positive, they would just consider her positive as well.
But she insisted on a test, so she could confirm she had COVID as she wanted to donate plasma. Vickie said she saw a post on Facebook one day about donating plasma and thought it was an interesting option. In addition, their daughter Madison works in the emergency department at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield where they are using plasma to treat COVID cases.
“But they don’t have enough donations,” Vickie said. “So they have to ration what they are able to give out.”
Convalescent plasma therapy uses blood from people who have recovered from an illness to help others recover. The plasma includes antibodies that may help the patient fight off the illness.
After being diagnosed with COVID, the Thrones got in touch with the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center about donating plasma. Recovering patients have to wait 28 days after they are symptom free to donate, so the blood center kept their information to contact them at a later date.
The couple made their first plasma donation on Monday, Jan. 4, at the Illinois Blood Bank in Springfield, and plan to return every week. Vickie said the actual procedure took about 45 minutes, although some of the administrative details took another hour.
Originally, Vickie’s rapid COVID test came back positive, and she started donating plasma with her husband. However, after her first donation was tested, Vickie came back negative for antibodies, likely meaning she did not have COVID.
Donating plasma takes longer than donating blood because the blood is collected and when the red blood cells are separated out, they are returned to the donor. That allows the donor to give blood sooner than a regular blood donation, which requires nearly 60 days between donations for the body to rebuild its red blood cell count.
“We’ve had people ask if it hurt, and it really doesn’t,” Vickie said. “It’s not really any different than donating blood.”
She said there were some times of discomfort like a cold feeling in her arm or a bad taste in her mouth, but that the whole process was really simple.
Tony plans to donate plasma as often as he can, which includes once a week for the first four weeks and then once every other week until their antibodies are determined to be too low.
“Each bag of plasma we donate can help up to two people,” Vickie said.
While they were donating, the technician who was monitoring them shared that there is a nurse who had recovered from COVID and donates her plasma and will continue to as long as she can because she has seen firsthand the effect it has on recovery of patients.
“We really aren’t doing this to get anything out of it,” Vickie said. “We are thankful Tony didn’t have it really bad and was able to recover in our home.”
Throne said that while they are travelling to Springfield to donate, there are chances to donate at local blood drives if donors make arrangements ahead of time. In addition, the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center is also providing a $35 Amazon gift card to donors each time they donate, as well as a $10 gift card to encourage donors to help out during the pandemic.
For donors who are unable to donate plasma, they are still urged to donate blood, as it can be separated out. However, blood donations cannot be made as frequently as plasma donations. For more information about plasma donations, visit www.bloodcenter.org.