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Donor’s impact demonstrates need for convalescent plasma at Midwest hospitals

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MADISON (WKOW) - One donor's impact on the survival of a COVID-19 patient demonstrates the need for convalescent plasma at hospitals in the Midwest, as supplies increasingly tighten.

Head of UW Health's Convalescent Plasma Program Dr. William Hartman says UW Hospital's current supply is sufficient. But Hartman says he's aware of issues elsewhere. "Throughout the state, throughout the Midwest, there's other places with only days of supply available," Hartman says.

Wisconsin has already needed to import plasma from other states, but that might not continue as the shortage of donors continues in all areas,  Dr. Ajay Sahajpal, director of the transplant program for Advocate Health Care, tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“For convalescent plasma, specifically, it’s a critical shortage," he said.

Sahajpal is worried that as the holiday season approaches, fewer people will donate blood — leading to a crisis across several medical fronts. 

"We need to increase donations so we can help people all across the Midwest," Hartman says. He says a recent blood drive involved 450 UW students and boosted the local plasma supply, but several physicians statewide and representatives of the American Red Cross say concerns over virus spread have cancelled hosts of other previously scheduled blood drives.

Antibodies in convalescent plasma have been shown to bolster the immune systems of patients. "The best response that we've seen is when those are used in high concentration...and early, just as the patient is beginning to develop their own immune response," Hartman says.

One donor's experience shows the treatment can also be lifesaving.

In April, Sun Prairie's Gary Dalgaard became the first recovered COVID-19 patient to donate plasma. "We're not heroes," he told WKOW's Francisco Alemenara at the time about his donation, deferring to actions of first responders as heroic.

On Monday, told WKOW-TV the power of a simple blood draw was demonstrated to him some weeks after his initial donation. "I actually got a card in the mail from a lady in Merrill, Wisconsin," Dalgaard says. "She said, 'I just wanted to write and thank you so much for donating because my brother was in the ICU...and they told us to prepare for the end. And then they said they had this plasma and they gave us your name, and he is now recovered,' " the letter-writer told Dalgaard.

"I cried," Daalgard says. "It was incredible."

"This is something you can do, this is a really positive thing that you can do that can make a difference," Daalgard says.

"The Red Cross has seen a 60% increase for the demand for convalescent plasma from our hospitals," Madison area Red Cross Spokesperson Laura McGuire says. "As the U.S. experiences a new surge of COVID-19 cases, the Red Cross is becoming increasingly concerned about the nation’s blood supply-- including convalescent plasma."

Dalgaard says the note about the patient's survival spurred him to keep helping stems the impact of the coronavirus in the way he could. "Since then, I've given, last week I think was my tenth time," Dalgaard says. For others who have recovered from COVID-19, Dalgaard asks they consider donating their precious plasma. "You really need to step up and do it because they're short of it."