A second blood drive is scheduled for Sunday, May 10.
This past Sunday, 220 individuals waited their turn to be part of a five-hour-long momentous blood drive in hopes of being eligible to donate plasma to help those suffering from COVID-19.
Hatzalah of Michigan-Emergency Medical Services, in partnership with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., held the drive to identify those whose blood shows antibody levels high enough to allow them to donate plasma for scientific trials and treatment of individuals who have the virus.
The drive, which took place in an outdoor, tented area at Yeshiva Beth Yehudah in Oak Park, was so well-attended, a second one is scheduled for Sunday, May 10.
Ensuring social distancing, potential donors remained in their cars until called, with testers maintaining minimal contact.
The upcoming drive will test individuals who are now healthy, but had tested positive for COVID-19, had symptoms but were not tested or live with someone who had the virus, as well as health care workers, first responders and law enforcements personnel.
Volunteer medics from the Oak Park-based Hatzalah, along with area doctors and nurses, drew blood at last Sunday’s drive. The Convalescent Plasma Drive was organized by Hatzalah, in conjunction with Lev Rochel Bikur Cholim of Lakewood, N.J. with the assistance of Dr. Nigel Paneth, a professor of epidemiology, biostatistics and pediatrics at Michigan State University and part of the leadership of the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project.
The drive was sponsored by TCF Bank in collaboration with Hatzalah nationwide, Ascension Providence Hospital in Southfield and the American Red Cross, with support from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.
Blood drawn was sent to the Mayo Clinic to be tested. Names of those whose tests show probable useful antibodies will be shared with Hatzalah, whose staff will work with Ascension to direct donors to blood banks and help with screening and registration.
The process of harvesting — or removing — the plasma from the blood takes place at the blood banks. “It begins with a standard blood draw,” according to Hatzalah’s volunteer director, Dr. Steve McGraw, who is medical director of Oakland County Medical Control Authority and Emergency Department Chief at Providence Hospital. He and blood drive volunteer, hematologist and oncologist Dr. Daniel Lebovic oversaw the outdoor testing site.
“The blood is then run through a machine that extracts the plasma,” McGraw said. “Then all blood components, minus the plasma are returned to the donor along with a saline solution that replaces the plasma that was removed.” Each session supplies enough plasma to benefit three patients and donations may be made every seven days.
Hatzalah’s volunteer-based units are present in Orthodox communities throughout the country, providing rapid response to medical emergencies, life support and medical attention, augmenting existing emergency medical services with community-based state-certified EMT volunteer responders.
“The community EMS work that Hatzalah does saves lives daily,” said Gary Torgow, chairman of TCF Financial Corporation, in a press release statement. “This is yet another demonstration of how volunteers can impact communities in the most meaningful of ways.”
Among those at Sunday’s drive were Nachy Soloff of Southfield, a volunteer and organizer of the drive.
“So many people within the Orthodox community really care about helping in so many ways,” he said. “Locally, much of it is quieter, like Detroit Chesed Project — whose volunteers provide programs like respite for families with children with special needs and school lunches for families in crisis — and Detroit Chaverim — who offer non-emergency volunteer help, like fixing flat tires — who provided traffic control for the blood drive. But it is something we do all the time. This one just happens to be a loud, vocal one.”
The blood testing was held as part of the Yitzchok Lebovits COVID Plasma Initiative Foundation, a grassroots effort formed in New York early April with a mission of making convalescent COVID-19 plasma accessible to as many patients as possible by recruiting donors. With the support of the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America, they also assist blood banks with donor screening and scheduling and facilitate partnerships between hospitals and blood banks.
The local drives are among those in several states, beginning with one held at the Young Israel of New Rochelle synagogue in Westchester County, N.Y., where the first New York-based COVID-19 patients were identified.
“Many of us know someone who has been affected by the virus and we feel so powerless,” Soloff said. “People who came out to the drive did so because of a sense of knowing that this could be their way to have the potential to help.”
The Hatzalah Convalescent Plasma Drive will take place from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sunday, May 10, at 14400 W. 10 Mile Road, Oak Park. To register to be tested, go to: https://mihatzalah.org/plasma-drive/, call (248) 744-4357, option 3 or text (248) 313-4952.
The purpose of the drive is to determine eligibility for plasma donation, not to determine immunity. Registrants must agree to donation if blood meets criteria.
Advance registration is necessary for information to be uploaded in the Mayo Clinic system.