2 Duke students recover from COVID-19, donate plasma to help others in need

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — After their own COVID-19 diagnoses, two Duke students hope their blood could help others still fighting the virus.

A few weeks after recovering from COVID-19, Zack Kaplan, a Duke Law student, rolled up his sleeves and donated plasma.

“It just seemed like an obvious choice, a small way I could give back to somebody else and sort of pay it forward,” Kaplan explained.

Doctors want to find out whether antibodies in the blood of people who’ve recovered from COVID-19 can help others fight the virus.  

Duke, UNC, and WakeMed can all use the experimental treatment known as convalescent plasma for some coronavirus patients.

There are different options for recovered COVID-19 patients to donate.  

UNC Medical Center is collecting plasma directly from donors at the hospital in Chapel Hill. The Red Cross, where Kaplan donated, is working with Duke and other hospitals nationwide.

“It takes a couple of hours to donate but for the most part it’s relatively painless,” said Kaplan.

Doctors say it’s still not clear whether the plasma will be effective for coronavirus patients.

“We’ve had some success in treating other viral diseases, including Ebola, with this approach,” noted Dr. Christopher Woods, a professor of medicine and expert in infectious diseases at Duke.

Thomas N. Denny, the CEO of Duke Human Vaccine Institute, added, “As we do these tests on donors that provide plasma, we may learn that some are actually better donors for that type of therapy than others.”

Doctors at Duke are also doing other studies on the blood of people who are fighting or recovering from COVID-19, like Jenny Cooke.  

Cooke, a Duke student, never developed significant symptoms but has tested positive for the coronavirus for about a month.  

Every week, she says researchers take blood samples, as well as nasal and oral swabs, to learn more about the virus. Once she tests negative for COVID-19, she will learn whether she is eligible to donate plasma. She says it will depend on her antibodies.

Despite scary diagnoses, both Cooke and Kaplan are thankful their experiences with COVID-19 have been mild. Now they hope to help others who haven’t been so fortunate.

“So many people helped me out when I was sick,” recalled Kaplan.

Cooke added, “Hopefully they can benefit from my conquering the disease.”

If you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 and recovered, and you want to donate plasma, you can find more information about donating through the American Red Cross here.

Plasma collection will also take place at UNC-Chapel Hill each Saturday by appointment only. You can find out more here.

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