Thrive by IU Health

June 28, 2022

Nurse who had COVID-19: “The positive is I can donate plasma to help others”

Nurse who had COVID-19: “The positive is I can donate plasma to help others”

The numbers are the highest they have been in months. COVID-19 continues to be a deadly virus gripping our country. One IU Health nurse reminds those infected that they have a chance to give back to others.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

Like most people Janel Lee was taking precautions. She faithfully wore a mask and as much as was possible avoided public spaces and crowds. But after celebrating her birthday at the end of August, she learned she had been exposed to COVID-19.

It was a Sunday when she met with one of her three adult sons and a few other family members. Within days, she spiked a fever and was chilling so badly that her teeth were chattering. The symptoms increased – diarrhea, headache, cough and loss of taste and smell.

“We wore our masks to our table at dinner, sanitized our hands and were careful when we were together,” said Lee. But days after the birthday dinner Lee said her entire body ached from head to toe. She learned that one of her family members had been exposed at work and brought the virus to dinner. “It was unfortunate but you can’t assume because it’s your family you’re safe. You can be asymptomatic and then it quickly passes to someone else,” said Lee, who lives in Madison County. During the weeks of her symptoms, she isolated from others, rested, and took Tylenol for her headache.

A native of Richmond, Lee obtained her nursing degree from Ivy Tech, Richmond. She joined the transplant team at IU Health in 2008. Since 2016 she has served as a post kidney transplant coordinator. In her role she sees patients facing renal failure who are able to celebrate a second chance after receiving kidney transplants. She knew she wanted to help others facing the serious effects of COVID-19.

By late September Lee tested negative for the virus and was able to return to her normal work schedule and meet her fifth grandchild. By the first week in October she began testing to become a donor of convalescent plasma.

Since the onset of the novel virus, researchers have found that people who test positive for COVID-19 and recover may have antibodies in their blood that help others who are critically ill with the virus. Through IU Health, recovered patients can complete and submit an evaluation.

Plasma donors must be able to prove they had a COVID-19 diagnosis with a positive, documented laboratory test. Donors must also be symptom-free. The plasma can be stored for up to a year but most will be used before the 12-month mark. Once the evaluation is complete, the recovered patient is referred to Versiti Indiana Blood Center to make the plasma donation. Each recovered patient can donate up to 12 times.

As of November 1, IU Health completed 309,229 tests for COVID-19. Of those who tested positive for the virus, 1,270 were screened as potential plasma donors; 595 were referred to Versiti Indiana Blood Center for donations.

“I try to find something good in every situation. The positive is I can donate plasma to others,” said Lee. She witnessed firsthand the results of convalescent plasma in a kidney transplant patient who had a compromised immune system. After receiving the convalescent plasma the patient went from being severely ill to improved breathing and eventually released from the hospital. Doctors believe the infused plasma helps build immunity against the virus.

After initial testing, Lee was able to donate convalescent plasma within about 30 minutes. She has donated twice since her recovery and already has a third appointment scheduled. She plans to donate 12 times – the allotted number of donations by recovered patients.

“I truly hope we find more and more patients recovering from COVID-19 who are willing to donate,” said Lee. “I do believe it works and helps severely ill patients recover and get another chance.”

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