Two patients at Virtua Voorhees Hospital are steadily recuperating from critical cases of COVID-19 after receiving convalescent plasma transfusions in the first week of April. The pair are expected to return home to their families in May. They are the first two New Jersey residents to receive the ground-breaking plasma therapy.
“We are incredibly excited about these remarkable recoveries. We performed the transfusions just days after the clinical trial was announced, so it is gratifying to be among the first in nation to explore this promising approach to combating the coronavirus,” said Eric Sztejman, MD, a medical director for Virtua Health.
Virtua is a member of the FDA-authorized Convalescent Plasma Expanded Access Program, a national coalition of health care organizations and industry partners led by the Mayo Clinic. While there remains no vaccine or proven treatment for COVID-19, the program is evaluating the safety and efficacy of using convalescent plasma to help the immune systems of critically ill patients fight off the infection. Convalescent plasma comes from donors who recently recovered from the coronavirus and subsequently possess protective antibodies.
Virtua Voorhees Hospital is one of the few places in the tri-state area demonstrating early results. Virtua physician Lukasz Polisiakiewicz, DO, led a team of cross-disciplinary medical specialists in the effort. The plasma donation came from a relative of one of the two patients, and in just over a week, both individuals were successfully taken off ventilators and later discharged from the intensive care unit to the general medical floor.
While emerging as a potentially viable treatment option, convalescent plasma is not readily available given the relative newness of the novel coronavirus. The American Red Cross requests people who have fully recovered from COVID-19 and meet additional criteria to donate plasma for clinical trials of the plasma therapy.
“We must remember that while convalescent plasma has helped these two patients, it is not guaranteed to help all people. More studies are needed, and it is premature to speculate on the ultimate role this treatment option will play,” said Dr. Polisiakiewicz. “What I do know for certain, is that it was a great honor for me to provide these two families with good news and a second chance.”
The patients are:
Renee Bannister, 63, who had been on a ventilator at Virtua Voorhees Hospital for three weeks when she became the first New Jersey resident to receive a convalescent plasma transfusion and recover from COVID-19. Today the teacher from Gloucester County is alert, video-chatting with her family, and eagerly awaiting her return home, likely in time for her wedding anniversary in late May.
Andy Fei, 61, of Mt. Laurel, NJ, is returning to good health after weeks of uncertainty and grim projections. Andy, a husband, father, and professional opera singer, is the second person in New Jersey to receive a convalescent plasma transfusion and recover from COVID-19.