Starr Co. health authority using positive diagnoses to urge plasma donations

Starr County Health Authority Dr. Jose Vazquez confirmed his positive COVID-19 diagnosis this week and is now using his diagnosis to launch a campaign to urge others who have dealt with the disease to donate their plasma.

Vazquez, who found out he was positive on June 23 and has been working remotely from home ever since, told the Rio Grande City commissioners on Tuesday that he wanted to bring awareness about the importance of convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms.

“Once I came back with a positive diagnosis of COVID, I thought that this would be a good opportunity to make this an issue, not about myself but the people who have gotten COVID and have not been so fortunate like I am — that I was just mildly symptomatic or almost asymptomatic,” Vazquez said after the meeting Tuesday.

He said he knew of patients, including friends, with moderate to severe symptoms and whose lives had likely been saved because of convalescent plasma.

“I believe that convalescent plasma now should be the next step for my community and for me and to tackle that initiative and try to promote — for many, many people like me who are COVID positive today and will recover — to go and donate plasma to try to save or preserve somebody’s health or life in the future,” Vazquez said.

He said that plasma treatment gives patients a fighting chance when they are severely ill and prevents the need for respiratory assistance or the need for a ventilator.

“This transfusion of convalescent plasma gives you the right antibodies to help that individual fight the disease at the point where you are not yet building your own antibodies,” Vazquez said. “It’s basically that you are providing that patient who is significantly sick with the right ammunition to give them the chance to fight it off.”

The hope is also that the treatment will prevent the patient from reaching a point where their chances of survival are significantly smaller.

“Once you get to the point where you need a ventilatory assistance, and every day that passes where you are hooked up to a ventilator, your chances of getting over this disease are significantly decreasing,” Vazquez said.

The practice of donating plasma is already underway in Hidalgo County where doctors who were previously infected with COVID-19 but have since recovered began donating their plasma to help treat patients with severe symptoms.

At Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, DHR Health and DHR Health Institute for Research and Development partnered with other hospitals in the region to establish a protocol to treat such patients with plasma donated from individuals who recovered from COVID-19, according to a news release.

Through that initiative, they set up blood donation centers throughout the Rio Grande Valley to collect the plasma.

Vazquez said that currently, the treatments in use for COVID-19 patients include anticoagulation, which is to administer blood thinners, the second is the use of the corticosteroid dexamethasone, and the third is the use of remdevisir, an antiviral drug which is in short supply.

“After that, the convalescent plasma is a very, very important tool to prevent the cross into the next step, the next step meaning the one where you are so sick that you can’t breathe on your own,” he said.

Vazquez said he is still working to set up a way for recovered patients to donate in Starr County, but pointed to a blood bank working with DHR as a currently available option for people who want to donate.

“I have already established a contact line with them but I am in the process of finalizing a little bit more of the details that I will need in order to initiate this campaign,” he said.

He hopes to finalize those details this afternoon that will detail where they will be referring people to donate and the requirements necessary to do so.

For now, people who want to inquire about donating their plasma, they can contact DHR by phone at (956) 215-3166, by email at dhrresearch@dhr-rgv.com, or visit their website.