FORT BENNING, Ga. – The Sullivan Memorial Blood Center on Sand Hill collected its first donation of COVID-19 convalescent plasma from an Infantry Basic Officer Course student.
2nd Lt. Sam Zivot with 2nd Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment, donated his plasma June 4. He described COVID-19 as “real and very unpleasant.” The Indianapolis native entered the Army in November and graduated from Officer Candidate School March 6; before the travel ban, he had a 10-day temporary duty assignment in Atlanta, which is where he thinks he caught the respiratory illness.
“I’m the only one I know who had it – no one in my class and no one I was with (in Atlanta) got it,” he said. After several days with a headache and developing a high fever, he went to the Consolidated Troop Medical Clinic to test for the COVID-19 virus. It took 10 days for the initial test to come back. Zivot quarantined at home, along with his roommate, who did not get sick; both were following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Defense Health Agency protocols to mitigate the virus’s spread.
During his isolation and recovery, Zivot said he spent time investigating treatments for the disease.
“I didn’t study biology,” said the graduate of Indiana University Bloomington with a master’s degree from the University of Economics in Prague, “but it seemed as if convalescent plasma was pretty widely believed to be useful.”
Which is why the Department of Defense and the Armed Services Blood Program has a goal to collect 8,000 units of COVID-19 convalescent plasma by the end of September, said Maj. Pavel Munerman, director of the Sullivan Memorial Blood Center on Sand Hill.
“At this point there is no cure, no vaccine, no methods that actually work for patients – everything is under research,” said Pavel, who studied immunohematology at George Washington University. “This product is also under research, but we know that it helps.”
Convalescent plasma contains antibodies to fight the disease. In this case, Zivot contracted SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. His immune system created antibodies, which are proteins in his plasma, to fight the virus.
“It’s my responsibility to (donate), even though I don’t like to (give blood). It’s the right thing to do,” he explained. “It will go to people who need it. I know how bad it sucks – getting sick like that. Anything you can do to make that fever stop, honestly.”
During a Department of Defense virtual town hall May 28, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley spoke about antibody testing and convalescent plasma.
“We may want you to ask you to stick your arm out and donate blood in order to give … give some plasma,” he said. “What that can then do is help others who are severely ill. And if we can do that, then we'll be on a good path toward getting some really powerful therapeutics.”
Sheila Rudesheim has worked in clinical lab science field since completing her undergraduate degree in 1985 and at the Sullivan Memorial Blood Center since its grand opening. She said COVID-19 convalescent plasma donors have to meet the standard donation requirements, plus have a COVID-19 positive test and be symptom free for at least 14 days.
Zivot said his COVID-19 symptoms included a “brutal fever and headache, and chest restriction.”
“There wasn’t any question in my mind (I had COVID.) It’s taken me two months to get back to full strength.
“My lungs were damaged, more inflamed,” he said. “I lost three minutes on my 2-mile run. My muscle strength is good but my lungs weren’t keeping up with me.”
Because there is an urgent need for the convalescent plasma, Zivot said he plans to donate again in a month.
Sullivan Memorial Blood Center is located at 9231 2nd Inf. Div. Road on Sand Hill. The hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Thursday. To schedule convalescent plasma donation, call 706-626-3623 or 706-544-0071.