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COVID-19 survivor donates plasma to help others recover from the virus

Written By: Amy Laukka | Updated: April 23, 2020
Photo of Jose Abdelnoor, 71, donates his antibody-rich plasma after surviving COVID-19. (Photo credit: Jose Abdelnoor)

Jose Abdelnoor, 71, donates his antibody-rich plasma after surviving COVID-19. (Photo credit: Jose Abdelnoor)

Jose Abdelnoor, 71, and his wife Evelyn Diaz, 67, say they would go through the scary experience of having COVID-19 again if it means they could save a life through donating their antibody-rich plasma.

“What greater gift is there to give someone than human life?” Diaz asked.

Abdelnoor donated plasma through an experimental therapy program being investigated by physicians at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) for use at Memorial Hermann. Diaz is waiting until she has been officially recovered from the virus for at least two weeks to see if she is eligible to donate.

Researchers say transfusing plasma from someone who has survived the virus to someone who is critically ill could give the patient the boost they need to overcome the illness.

The married couple tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-March after travelling out of state for a funeral. They both have underlying conditions and were aware that to some, the odds of survival might seem stacked against them.

“I’ve read about so many folks younger and healthier than me who died from the virus,” Abdelnoor said. “Both my wife and I felt like at one point or another that we were so sick we might die. But I knew it wasn’t my time to go. My friends tell me I’m a warrior.”

In addition to prayers from friends and family, they say what helped arm them in the fight against COVID-19 was the care and constant check-ins they received from their UT Physicians cardiologist Heinrich Taegtmeyer, MD, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.

“We called him to share that we had both tested positive for COVID-19, and right away he said ‘Don’t worry, we are going to get through this together.’ That shifted my mindset from fear to thinking that I could overcome the virus. And we have talked to him every day since – even on Saturdays and Sundays he calls to check on us,” Diaz said. “We are very fortunate to have a cardiologist who cares so much.”

“The pandemic has caught all of us by surprise. As the oldest board-certified cardiologist at McGovern Medical School, and as a physician-scientist who also treats patients, I am grateful that I can be of help wherever I am needed,” Taegtmeyer said.

He recommended a cough syrup to loosen up the phlegm and an ointment with vapors to soothe the chest. He also recommended breathing exercises and drinking lots of water.

“I was drinking more than 100 ounces of water a day. I was also applying heat to my back, neck, and shoulders to ease the aches. Slowly but surely, we started feeling better and were able to recover completely at home,” Diaz said.

Diaz had read that donating plasma could help other patients recover. When she asked Taegtmeyer about the therapy, he recommended they enroll in the investigational plasma program at UTHealth and Memorial Hermann.

“It’s a way of saving one or more people’s lives without having to sacrifice anything,” Diaz said. “I am so excited about donating – it makes going through the illness worthwhile.”

“I had fun when I donated my plasma – I even took pictures while I was there. It took less than an hour and was not painful at all. It was a very pleasant and fulfilling experience for me,” Abdelnoor said.

Anyone interested can fill out this form, and if qualifications are met, they’ll be asked to come to the Texas Medical Center to provide a blood sample for testing.

To qualify, you must:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Be in overall good health, without any cold or flu symptoms
  • Have had a positive COVID-19 diagnosis documented by a laboratory test
  • Be fully recovered from COVID-19, with no symptoms for at least 14 days before the donation

Faculty from McGovern Medical School at UTHealth who are part of the nationwide convalescent plasma program include Henry Wang, MD, MS, professor and executive vice chair of research in the Department of Emergency Medicine; Bela Patel, MD, vice dean of healthcare quality and division director for critical care medicine, who is the principal investigator of the UTHealth program site; and Luis Ostrosky, MD, professor of medicine and epidemiology and vice chair of healthcare quality. At Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, Ostrosky is the medical director for epidemiology, Patel is the executive medical director of critical care, and Wang is an attending physician. Ostrosky and Patel also see patients at UT Physicians.

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As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.