EVERETT — Donating plasma isn’t the ideal date for most couples, but Paul and Paula Perez have turned their weekly appointments at PlasmaLab International into just that. They sit in lounge chairs next to each other, talk, enjoy refreshments and race to see who reaches their donation total first.
The Perezes, both 54 of Edmonds, carry an increasingly valuable resource: COVID-19 antibodies.
“There is a gap in this research and finding the materials from donors that recovered from COVID-19,” said Safet Ibisevic, COO of PlasmaLab International, a collection center for antibody research.
Blood plasma from survivors of the coronavirus is pivotal as medical professionals test for ways to treat and prevent the disease that has killed more than 120,000 people nationwide and 160 in Snohomish County.
Paul became ill after the couple returned from a vacation to Washington D.C. at the beginning of March and Paula fell sick soon after.
“I felt like I got hit by a truck,” Paul said. For two weeks, they endured body aches, fevers and flu-like symptoms, but avoided any of the respiratory conditions that make COVID-19 deadly.
While recovering, Paula found a Facebook group for individuals battling or recovering from coronavirus called Survivor Corps and the couple learned of the impact their antibodies could have.
Around the same time in early April, PlasmaLab International began searching for antibody-rich, COVID-19 survivors, to donate plasma for research purposes.
Ordinarily, a collection center focused on allergy, autoimmune and viral infection research, PlasmaLab International redirected some of its efforts toward fighting the pandemic.
“It appeared to us that it will take every single one of us to put everything we can do forward and help the research community get to the bottom of this and find a cure,” Ibisevic said.
After being symptom-free and fully recovered for 14 days, Paul and Paula underwent the standard paperwork, screening and physical exam to ensure they were healthy to donate and the product collected would be safe — for donations of COVID-19 plasma, this includes proof of a positive nasal swab test.
The Perezes met the parameters and began donating immediately, continuing once a week since the beginning of May.
The process takes about an hour to donate. Snacks and drinks are provided to keep blood sugar levels high and after a successful donation, donors are compensated with $185.
“We value people’s time and we know the importance of the product and it is hard to come by nowadays,” Ibisevic said.
Plasma donated in Everett is then delivered across the world to a variety of companies and labs that are working to develop test kits and treatments for COVID-19.
“They need material to do their job, they need material to do their research and that is where we felt PlasmaLab’s role was very important,” Ibisevic said.
According to PlasmaLab CEO Kay Hill, this need will only grow. As better test kits are developed to detect the disease, each kit will need a positive control test that can only be derived from someone who has previously had the infection.
PlasmaLab has an estimated 25 coronavirus survivors donating plasma, some as often as twice a week, and encourages others who have recovered or may qualify for other donation programs to browse the company’s website, plasmalab.com, or call 425-258-3653 for more information.
Paul and Paula are grateful to have recovered and thankful for an opportunity to help in the research. Despite the intimidating needle which Paula compared to the tip of a ballpoint pen, the couple praised PlasmaLab’s staff and said anyone with COVID-19 antibodies should consider donating.
“If we can help pave forward and ease the walk for people down the road that was really and still is our motivation,” Paul said. “It is just another way to flatten the curve.”
Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.