On March 17th, the Department of Immunohematology and Transfusion Medicine of San Matteo Hospital in Pavia (Italy) started to implement an experimental clinical protocol in response to the spread of Covid-19 infection. This protocol is the result of the collaboration between San Matteo Hospital and other healthcare centers in Lodi and Mantua. It relies upon the use of hyperimmune plasma or convalescent plasma (donated by patients who have recently recovered from Covid-19 and rich in anti-virus antibodies), to be administered to critically ill patients.
This is not brand new therapy. In the past, it was carried out in order to increase the survival rate of patients affected by equally serious acute respiratory syndromes caused by other coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS.
In my photo reportage, I collected the voices of the donors who survived from Covid-19 and decided to join the study and help other people.
Is plasma therapy really effective against Covid-19? The results of the study, ended on May 8th, will be released soon. Waiting for good news, I interviewed Doctor Cesare Perotti, Responsible for the Department of Immunohematology and Transfusion Medicine at San Matteo in Pavia and Head of the test on hyperimmune plasma therapy (June 1st 2020).
“The perfect donor is a person who recently recovered from Covid-19. He must be tested negative twice in 24 hours to swabs. On top of this, at least 14 days need to pass since the disappearance of symptoms or since the end of anti Covid-19 therapy for infected people being eligible for donation. The convalescent plasma is a very limited resource – that could be collected in a very short time – and this is why it is so precious. It is not so common find women among donors: first of all, Covid-19 hit men more intensively than women; secondly, women which had pregnancy or abortion has developed antibodies potentially dangerous for the recipient patients.
Since now, we count 250 donors in the program. Over these last weeks, all of them told me the same thing: “I’m here for helping those who got the virus just like me”.
Coronavirus is a new virus. We don’t know much about it, and the pandemic is having a massive impact on our lives. It is understandable that all the news about the virus fed an intense public debate and criticisms. The study is closed and we can say that we achieved excellent results. It is hard to predict the future. For sure, it is important that all of us keep on using precautions (masks, gloves, social distancing) because this is the way to contain the spread of the virus. Hoping we won’t need this again, we are collecting and stocking hyperimmune plasma in the event a second wave of Covid-19 might take place in the near future.
There is one image fixed in my mind over these last months: the anxiety of waiting for the results of a transfusion to an ill patient, and in the subsequent days, the happiness for seeing him/her getting better soon”.
Annalisa Menga, 30 yo, Senior Carabinieri Officer
“During my quarantine, thanks to tv news, I discovered that San Matteo Hospital had started testing transfusion of hyperimmune plasma to Covid-19 infected people. I called all the colleagues that, like me, had recently recovered from the coronavirus infection. I asked them whether they were available to donate their plasma. Then, I called Gianluca Viarengo, one of the Doctor working at the Medical Transfusion Center. He was so enthusiastic about our initiative. Since now, 25 Carabinieri donated their hyperimmune plasma. This fact means a lot to me, especially because I’m part of Carabinieri. This is a way for helping the community. I know that my plasma won’t stop the Covid-19 crisis in Italy, but this might be a good chance for helping our Country. It is a way to restart together”.
Marco Pialorsi, 52 yo, Geologist
“On March 1th, I was hospitalized in the Covid-19 special unit at San Matteo Hospital. I came back home on March 18th. On March 23rd I donated my plasma. I started to give blood in 1986. When I heard about hyperimmune plasma therapy, I soon informed the hospital that I was available. This was the least I could do. When I was younger, I was a rugby player. Now I play in the Senior Team in Pavia. During my hospitalization, my teammates supported me, by sending me messages, and my family at home”.
Vanessa Modica, 37 yo, nurse at Covid-19 unit at San Matteo Hospital
“As a citizen, donating blood is deeply important. It is for free and you do not even know whom you are helping with your donation. For a nurse like me, this is even more meaningful. I gave my hyperimmune plasma in order to help those very same patients that I have seen awake, that I have seen suffering, that I have seen intubated and turning in worse health condition. This donation gave to my job an even stronger meaning than usual”.
Fausto Di Giovanni, 56 yo, cobbler
“My father, Ercole Domenico, was the first in my family getting infected by Covid-19. Despite he was 82 years old, he was healthy and he worked with me in the shop. Unfortunately, after just one week, he passed away. Then, the virus spread in the rest of the family. My mother was completely asymptomatic. My wife and I, instead, got seriously sick. I suddenly recovered by myself, but one nigh I had to call an ambulance for my wife. The emergency team came to bring her to hospital in front of our sons, who saw their grandfather brought away in the same ambulance just few weeks before, and who have never seen him coming back. I will bring this image with me forever. It was an extraordinary tough moment for all of us. On the contrary, the best moment was the call from the hospital telling us we were fully recovered, and proposing me to donate plasma.
For me, this has been a new and a very important experience. It is a good feeling knowing that I have been of help for someone else”.
Marco Facchinotti, 65 yo, Mayor of Mortara
“I have been used donating blood for a long time, but this time was different. This time, I knew that I could even heal a human being. This is a very profound feeling. Recently, I have watched a tv show with an interview to a very old man. He cried all the time while talking about his experience with the virus. Then, the camera focused on the blood bag: his blood type was A+. I’m A+. I realized that the blood in the bag, which helped him to recovered from Covid-19, could have been mine”.
Giulia Smaldore, 26 yo, physiotherapist
“At the hospital, the Doctor told me that I could have been a potential donor. As soon as the swab test was negative for 3 consecutive times, I decided to give my plasma. At the beginning, I underrated the spreading of Covid-19. I thought it was quite unlikely for me to be touched by Covid-19. Donating my hyperimmune plasma has been a very powerful charge of positive energy. After donation, when I came back home I was super enthusiastic. I did never donate my blood before, but now I wish to become a regular donor”.
Angelo Emilio Marioni, 61 yo, Head of Marketing and Communication for Amministrative Services of local Health Care System
“I have never thought for a second not be a donor. You have the chance to save someone else who got infected by Covid-19 in a more serious way than you. There is no wonder in this act. This is nothing extraordinary… Better: it should be a normal act for all those who can donate”.
Riccardo Comuni, 46 anni, Carabinieri Field Marshal
“Carabinieri corps are always sensitive and close to the community. When San Matteo Hospital started testing hyperimmune plasma in order to help people in intensive care, I decided to take part of this, together with my colleagues. Since when I recovered from Covid-19, I have already given my plasma 3 times, because the concentration of Covid-19 antibodies in my plasma is still very high”.
Simone Molinari, 37 yo, emergency nurse San Matteo Hospital (AREU)
“Volunteering is been always part of my life. Donating my plasma meant something important to me, given the terrible moment we are living in. Sometimes I thought it was like living in a movie. When you work in emergency as I do, and you are forced to stay home because you got infected by the virus, you feel completely restless. Donate my plasma has been something that released me”.
Pierangelo Cattaneo, 48 yo, shareholder in a company commercialising cold cuts
“Just after my first donation, I felt sick for few days. This is why I was a little bit worried about the second donation. Covid-19 let me weak for weeks. Differently from what I thought, the second time I gave my plasma was definitely better. Helping - and maybe saving - someone else, I guess, is a deeply profound feeling for every human being. I wish to give my plasma again. The hospital will call me again if I will be still suitable for a new donation”.
Diodoro Cocca, 54 yo, Top Manager
“When I reached the Hospital, I discovered real solidarity between people. Now that the emergency is over, stocking hyperimmune plasma in order to face a potentially new wave of Covid-19 is the only thing we can do insofar as we do not have a vaccine. We listened to statements on tv for weeks, but, at the end of the day, normal people always find the way to common sense. This is my experience in the hospital. It has been a relief thinking that, despite everything, there is always someone you can rely upon. Doctor Perotti in person visited me to assurethat I was good after donation”.
Fausto Bernini, 53 yo, Referent for Intramoenia Unit at San Matteo Hospital
“My office is just in front of Immunohematology Center. I am always in touch with the Center because I manage the acquisition of blood coming from AVIS units (Italian Volunteers for blood Association). When my quarantine was over, the very next day I went to test my blood in order to be sure I could donate. And so I was. After 2 days, I gave my hyperimmune plasma. Given the fact that I was stuck at home and I could not work with my colleagues, giving support to Doctor Perotti and his team in this study gave me the chance to be useful in some way”.