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'It’s something that I'm just driven to do': Boise woman donates convalescent plasma to help COVID-19 patients

Researchers are still looking into whether this type of therapy is effective, but the signs so far have been encouraging.

BOISE, Idaho — The American Red Cross is helping those who are fighting COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

They're doing this through convalescent plasma. According to the Mayo Clinic, this type of therapy is an experimental treatment some doctors are using to help people who are very sick.

To date, the Red Cross has collected and sent out more than a thousand convalescent plasma products. In Boise, they’ve collected 36 donations.

One of those was from Vanessa Fry. She told KTVB she was diagnosed with COVID-19 back in March, shortly after returning home to Boise from a skiing trip in Sun Valley.

It didn’t take long for her symptoms to start showing.

“I first felt like I had a heavy pressure on my chest, so kind of like shortness of breath,” she said. “Then I had a low-grade fever, it never really got that high.”

She said she ended up passing the disease along to her husband. Neither of them required hospitalization, and both started feeling better within a week.

After her recovery, she found out about the program through the Red Cross to donate convalescent plasma and help others fighting the disease.

Fry is a board member of the American Red Cross Greater Idaho chapter.

“I felt that, I'm a regular blood donor so I give as often as I can and it was about time for me to give,” she said. “So, I thought well gosh if this is going to be an even better way for me to help people that are really in a precarious situation, I felt it was my responsibility to really help out.”

RELATED: 2 Treasure Valley hospitals test new convalescent plasma therapy for the coronavirus

Dr. David Pate is the retired CEO of St. Luke’s and he currently sits on the state's coronavirus working group. He told KTVB that donating this type of plasma is similar to donating blood.

“We take the convalescent plasma and we infuse through a vein into a patient who is very sick with the infection,” he said. “With the idea that these antibodies may help that person recover from their infection.”

While he said there is no conclusive evidence this treatment is effective, the signs so far have been promising.

“I think we'll know in the next few months whether it's proven to be effective but so far encouraging,” he said.

On Monday, Fry went through the process of donating plasma, which she said was a little different than when she’s donated blood in the past.

“They’re taking your blood out but then they’re actually giving you some blood and some fluid back so it’s kind of a longer process,” she said. “It doesn’t hurt or anything like that but to me, like oh what is that, there’s stuff going back into me, which was cold, which they warned me about.”

Fry would love to see more people who’ve recovered from the disease to also donate their plasma if they can.

“It’s something that I'm just driven to do,” she said. “This is even to me like I felt even a higher responsibility to give the plasma even if they don't know exactly the benefit right now, to me if I can help move that needle a little further, it's really important for me to do that.

There are risks with this treatment. According to the Mayo Clinic, the risk of getting COVID-19 from plasma is very low because the donor needs to be fully recovered before they donate.

If you're interested in donating or want to see if you can click here.

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