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UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — A man who nearly died from COVID-19 this spring got the rare opportunity Tuesday to meet the woman whose donation of antibody-laden plasma following her own bout with the virus may have saved his life.
Outside the New York Blood Center's Upper East Side building, Scott Cohen embraced Abbie Park — an emotional meeting for two strangers bound together by an act that took place more than six months earlier.
In April, Cohen, 48, lay in a Long Island hospital bed, intubated, hooked up to a ventilator and debilitated by COVID-19.
"There was not much left for them to do for me — all the conventional treatments they had at the time failed," he recalled Tuesday. "I didn't have a lot of time left."
Days earlier, Cohen's own 80-year-old father had died from the disease. Fearing that Scott would meet the same fate, his brothers began pushing his caregivers at Plainview Hospital to give him what was then an experimental new treatment: convalescent plasma from a recovered COVID-19 patient.
The timing was in Cohen's favor: in late March, the FDA had approved the use of blood plasma to treat the virus, and the New York Blood Center became the first in the nation to begin collecting donations.
Park, a West Village resident, had contracted a mild case of the virus in mid-March. In early April, having recovered, she went to the donation center set up near Grand Central Terminal, hoping that some good could come from her illness.
Meanwhile, an online petition by Cohen's brothers, begging hospital administrators to try the plasma, had garnered more than 18,000 signatures. Their campaign was noticed by Diana Berrent, who leads the Survivor Corps support group for recovered patients, and who helped Cohen secure Park's plasma.
Scientists remain uncertain about the effectiveness of convalescent plasma, but Cohen, who received the transfusion within days of Park's donation, said he improved almost immediately.
"Within 24 hours, I was extubated, sitting up, looking at an iPad, on FaceTime with my wife and my three sons," Cohen said. He was released from the hospital on April 26.
Now, the center is soliciting a new round of plasma donations from recently-recovered patients, as they prepare for a likely second wave of COVID-19 this winter. To promote those efforts, NYBC leaders reached out to Cohen and Park over the summer to ask if they'd be interested in meeting — an unusual opportunity in a process that is normally anonymous.
When the two hugged on Tuesday, it was the first time they learned each others' identities. Both visibly emotional, Cohen thanked Park for her donation.
"My pleasure," she said. "The least I could do."
The New York Blood Center is seeking plasma donations from anyone who has recently recovered from COVID-19, and is also in severe need of normal blood donations.
People can register to donate at nybc.org. The Upper East Side donation center is at 310 East 67th Street.