Donating plasma may be the key in the fight against COVID-19

By Mackenzie WalshAugust 7, 2020

TRIPLER ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, HONOLULU - Maj. Gen. Michael Place sits in a chair, squeezing a red droplet-shaped stress ball. The apheresis machine, which separates plasma from blood, beeps like a video game, echoing something Place said earlier.

“It’s a virus – we can win.”

COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate against who it infects – even general officers are susceptible.

Maj. Gen. Michael Place donates COVID Convalescent Plasma
Two bags of yellow plasma hang above the apheresis machine as the intravenous tubes in Place’s left arm carry red blood cells back into his body. (Photo Credit: Mackenzie Walsh, Tripler Army Medical Center) VIEW ORIGINAL

Place, commanding general of the 18th Medical Command as of July 31, contracted COVID-19 in March of this year before coming to Hawaii for his current assignment. He is an example of the importance of getting tested even with mild symptoms. He never developed a cough but experienced a few days of fatigue and was febrile overnight. He stresses the importance of seeking medical guidance and self-isolation to protect your loved ones, even though it is difficult after you no longer feel ill.

Convalescent Plasma Donation

Known as COVID Convalescent Plasma – CCP – it’s the liquid part of blood collected from patients who have recovered from the virus and now have antibodies that can be used to help others recover.

This is Place’s third donation of CCP, and his first at Tripler Army Medical Center’s Blood Donor Center. An ardent supporter of the Armed Services Blood Program, Place has been contributing blood and blood products for more than 30 years.

When Place got the call asking him to donate CCP after recovery, he was excited to contribute to the fight and plans to continue donating as long as they let him.

“This is Soldiers and Soldiers’ Families taking care of Soldiers,” Place said.

Convalescent plasma is an additional therapeutic option being used under the Food and Drug Administration’s Investigational New Drug protocol while the world searches for a coronavirus vaccine. The FDA hopes the treatment will improve clinical outcomes in COVID-19 patients. The Defense Health Agency is currently leading an effort to collect 10,000 CCP units by Sept. 30. DHA was halfway towards that goal as of July 30.

After undergoing testing for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, collected units of plasma will be available for the treatment of COVID-positive patients in military treatment facilities, contributing to the readiness of our force and overall research on this virus. Cleared units are then frozen and remain usable for one year.

Frozen COVID Convalescent Plasma
Frozen plasma lasts for up to one year. (Photo Credit: Mackenzie Walsh, Tripler Army Medical Center) VIEW ORIGINAL

Similar to blood donation, plasma cannot be universally donated and units are only compatible with certain blood types.

“The more stockpiles we get filled up, the more lives we can potentially save,” said 1st Lt. Joshua Boggess, officer in charge of the Tripler Blood Donor Center.

The donation process takes a bit longer than a standard blood donation of five to ten minutes. Donating plasma takes just under an hour of collection time. After determining eligibility, staff checks vital signs to ensure patients are healthy enough to donate.

“You sit in this comfortable chair for a little while, they take the plasma from you,” Place said, “and give you some cookies and snacks and some departure gifts.”

To learn more about the Military Health System’s Convalescent Plasma Collection Program, visit Watch 1st Lt. Joshua Boggess discuss the basics of CCP here:

For more info on donating, visit To schedule an appointment with Tripler Army Medical Center’s Blood Donor Center, call 808-433-6148.