With South Florida hospitals in need of convalescent plasma units due to the surge of COVID-19 cases, a New York-based Jewish group stepped up to help with donations.
The COVID Plasma Initiative, which consists of thousands of Orthodox Jews who have recovered from the virus and are now donating their plasma, recently conducted drives in New York City that drew 200 donors.
Mordy Serle, co-founder of the initiative, said that 200 donors equals approximately 500-600 convalescent plasma units that can help treat COVID-19 patients. Serle mentioned that a chunk of those units went to the donation center OneBlood, which serves Florida.
"OneBlood didn't have enough convalescent plasma in Florida, so they turned to us to donate plasma," he said. "We went to the New York blood centers, and they collected our plasma which they then sent down to OneBlood, which they distributed to the hospitals in South Florida."
Dr. Yanyun Wu, medical director of blood bank and transfusion services at University of Miami Health System, a recipient of the convalescent plasma donations, said, “The fact that the units are coming from all the way from New York is amazing.”
"We're very grateful for their donations and also for their inspiration in helping to promote their message not only in New York, but in our own community of South Florida as well."
Wu said the plasma units were an urgent need for the hospital.
"The reason it's urgent is that the time that people are diagnosed is the time they need the plasma unit," she said." The earlier they get them, the better."
Dr. Shweta Anjan, an infectious diseases physician at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, another recipient of the donations, said, "We're extremely grateful that the COVID Plasma Initiative has sent the convalescent plasma units because with the increase of cases in Florida, we had no convalescent plasma available locally."
“I know from some of my colleagues here in South Florida that there were patients waiting for up to a week or two weeks to get convalescent plasma,” Anjan continued.
Chaim Lebovits, co-founder of the initiative, said with South Florida being a hot spot for coronavirus cases, that is where the biggest shortage of plasma units were.
"If you come to New York, you're going to have a lot more donors because we passed our wave and we do not have a lot of patients, where Florida is the exact opposite," he added. "They have a lot of active patients but they don't have so many donors because they don't have enough people that are two weeks post symptoms, so we have to coordinate from areas where we have more donors in order to send the units down to Florida."
Serle said that convalescent plasma has a tremendous amount of potential to fight COVID before a vaccine is ready.
"We need every single recovered patient to step forward and to help others," he added. "We're looking at our New York Jewish community as a model to be a light to everyone else to lead by example, which is what we've been doing."
Serle continued, "We hope that other communities are able to continue and step forward as well. We need them to make plasma donation a realistic treatment."
Serle said the initiative also helped organize four blood drives at Congregation Shaaray Tefilah in North Miami Beach. Yona Lunger, a local affiliate with the initiative, organized these drives in which 88 units of convalescent plasma and 114 units of whole blood were collected from OneBlood buses parked at the synagogue’s parking lot.
Susan Forbes, the blood donation center's senior vice president of corporate communications and public relations, said, "Anytime we can create additional awareness about the ongoing need of people to donate convalescent plasma, we're extremely appreciative of that."
“They’ve [COVID Plasma Initiative] have been very helpful in reaching out to their friends and colleagues in South Florida, and in creating awareness that people who have recovered from COVID-19 have the ability to help others still fighting the virus,” Forbes said.
A local advocate for the initiative is Alyssa Baumgarten of Miami Beach. She has worked with various local hospitals in assisting them to to get the plasma units they needed. When OneBlood ran out of the units, Baumgarten contacted the group in New York for the collection. As part of her outreach work, she is trying to expand the initiative beyond the Jewish community.
"While the Jewish community has provided this great service of collecting vast amounts of plasma, we don't have enough plasma in our makings to meet the needs of the entire country," she said. "We're a small segment of the population, so we need to get as many plasma and whole blood drives on the ground going in community centers, schools, churches, mosques and synagogues."
Baumgarten said any organization can conduct a blood drive by visiting oneblood.org/ and clicking on the link to host a blood drive.
Visit covidplasmasavealife.com for more information on the initiative.
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