Plasma from the cruise ship passenger who became the first Ventura County resident to test positive for COVID-19 has been used at a Camarillo hospital to help a critically ill coronavirus patient.
The experimental procedure designed to boost virus-fighting antibodies was confirmed by a St. John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital official.
Dwight Everett, the Camarillo donor, tested positive for the virus in early March after returning from a trip on the Grand Princess cruise ship. Tests later in the month confirmed his recovery, coming up negative for the virus.
Dr. Lynn Jeffers, chief medical officer for St. John’s Pleasant Valley, said plasma treatments could potentially be life-saving. She said she couldn’t reveal details about the patient who received the blood component because of privacy laws, and also declined to discuss his or her condition.
“The family was so grateful Dwight was willing to donate,” she said of a procedure that is still being investigated but has been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in emergency cases. “This is huge in the sense there is really no cure that we know of. This just gives us another tool.”
Enough plasma has been extracted from Everett’s blood to potentially be used for another patient, she said, adding St. John’s is looking for more recovered patients willing to donate plasma. People interested should contact their doctors.
The donor and the patient need compatible blood types. So-called convalescent plasma has been used in other outbreaks to boost a person’s antibodies. The jury is still out on the procedure for COVID-19, though there have been initial reports of benefits.
“If we can harness those antibodies to help the current patient to fight off COVID… that is potentially life saving,” Jeffers said. “We don’t have enough evidence to know if it will work.”
Everett gave plasma last week in Ventura. Though plasma from recovered patients has been collected previously at hospitals, including St. John’s Pleasant Valley, the donation was the first of its kind taken nationwide by Vitalant, according to a spokesman for the nation’s largest independent blood service provider.
Jeffers said St. John’s hospitals in Camarillo and Oxnard worked with Vitalant, formerly known as United Blood Services, to make the donation happen so the plasma would be available immediately.
For Everett it was a chance to turn his own saga into a way to help.
“I just feel it’s the right thing to do,” he said in a phone interview Thursday.
The 65-year-old retired electrician and his wife were on the Grand Princess Cruise from San Francisco to Mexico in February. He became sick about five days into the trip, experiencing severe body aches and what felt like the worst headache in his life.
He retreated into his cabin, and upon returning to the Bay Area, headed home and stayed there except for a trip to a Center for Family Health urgent care in Camarillo and a trip to his family doctor.
At first, he thought it was Valley Fever. Then a 71-year-old Placer County man who was on the same cruise died of coronavirus. A medical officer for the cruise company said the man contracted the virus before he came aboard, though public health officials challenged the claim.
Everett decided he should be tested. That happened in his car outside St. John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital, he said.
On March 5, the test results came back positive. He never got sick enough to be hospitalized and instead was quarantined at home.
If that meant his illness was mild, it didn’t seem like it.
“I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” he said. “It was pretty bad.”
Tests on March 14 showed he had recovered and the virus was gone. His wife never became sick. They remain sheltered in place with their four rescue dogs.
When he traveled to the plasma collection center in Ventura, he wore a mask. He felt good to be in a position to help others.
“It makes me feel very happy and proud,” he said. “It’s the least someone can do.”
Jeffers said hospitals are urgently looking for more donors. She said the first step for recovered COVID-19 patients is to reach out to their doctors.
Vitalant officials said they will only accept donors who have been evaluated and cleared by a physician.