There’s a multi-front race to find new tools to defeat coronavirus. One promising strategy is something called convalescent plasma therapy, recently approved on an experimental basis for COVID-19. To tell how it works, we go to Miami, a hot spot for the virus and, because of the Mayor— a focal point for the emerging, new treatment.
Sharyl: Miami’s coronavirus story began in mid-March. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez had recently visited with Brazil's President and his press secretary, who tested positive for coronavirus days later.
Mayor Francis Suarez: I immediately self quarantined on Thursday of that week, which was the 12th of March, and the Department of Health asked me to come in and take a test, which came out positive on the 13th.
Sharyl: He says he never felt sick, but spent 18 days in quarantine at his house. Once he got the all clear on March 30th, his family returned home.
Before long, a stranger’s family contacted him on social media asking for help. Suarez was now in a unique position to give it.
Suarez: I was immediately reached out to by a family in need, with a family member in critical condition and also by a company called oneblood that, asked me to donate plasma. So I felt obligated, morally obligated now that I had beat COVID-19, to use the immunities in my blood to help others that were potentially worse off than I was.
Sharyl: Researchers say plasma from people who have had COVID-19 could save the lives of others.
Sharyl: Can you explain in simple terms how you understand that works?
Suarez: The simplest way for me to explain it is that when the body defeats a virus, it creates antibodies, and that is in your bloodstream. And so I was eligible to give blood. It was a fairly quick process. I gave blood, it took me about five minutes and that the plasma that were extracted from that blood can be used and put into someone else to help their system develop the antibodies to quicker a defeat COVID-19 particularly those that are seriously sick.
Sharyl: It’s called “convalescent plasma therapy,” a longtime treatment used for people ill with viruses from Ebola to polio and flu.
Susan Forbes: This all has to do with antibodies.
Susan Forbes of the blood donation company “oneblood” says they sent a mobile van to take the Mayor’s blood at city hall.
Susan Forbes: He was our first donor under the COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Program and we were able to get this donation to that patient in less than 24 hours after the mayor donated and it made its way to the patient.
Sharyl: The patient, a 70-year-old man on a respirator in a Coral Gables, reportedly improved, but then died of a stroke.
Suarez: It was very sad because the family seemed to be excited about the person's recovery. And then unfortunately he had a separate medical complication that took the person's life.
Sharyl: But Suarez is using the experience to publicize the FDA’s recent approval of convalescent plasma for experimental use in coronavirus patients.
Suarez: I'm one of thousands of COVID-19 survivors that can donate their plasma, the antibodies in their plasma to help so many more people who are potentially feeling it and experiencing it at much worse symptoms than I did. And so I feel morally obligated and I think all those people should also feel obligated to go out. And once they beat it in their own bodies, help others do likewise.
Sharyl: How hard hit has Miami been?
Suarez: We've consistently been the city in Florida with the most number of cases. I was case number two, but there have been thousands of cases since this began.
Sharyl: Besides encouraging plasma donation, Mayor Suarez is also trying to infuse hope in his city. Every night, the U.S. flag is displayed downtown— to the beat of sounds from Miami native, Pitbull.
(Video shows music video for Pitbull song, "I believe that we will win")
Suarez: We're lighting up the Paramount Miami Worldcenter singing Pitbull’s song “I believe that we will win” at 10:00 PM to mark the curfew every single night to inspire people so that they know that we can beat COVID-19 working together as a city and as a community.
Sharyl: As the leader of a big city, when you see this chaos and disaster coming— and nobody knew how big it was going to get— how do you even address that? What changes have you seen in Miami?
Suarez: What I've seen is people rally around each other. People follow our orders. We were the first city to cancel large events, the first city in Dade County to implement a stay at home order, first city to implement a curfew, first city to require masks in public places. And so our residents thankfully have listened to us and because of that we've seen a very, very positive response in terms of the number of cases reducing since we implemented those decisions.
People who want to know more about convalescent plasma can ask their doctor or go to the FDA’s website fda.gov.