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DC firefighters who survived COVID-19 are saving lives, donating plasma to sickest virus patients

WUSA-TV Washington, D.C. logo WUSA-TV Washington, D.C. 7/2/2020 Mike Valerio
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They were patients during the pandemic, survived, and are now back to saving lives on the front lines.

But for an increasing number of D.C. firefighters, the front lines are within sterile blood plasma donation rooms, as recovered first responders help to save the sickest coronavirus patients.

“I love working as a firefighter and an EMT, two jobs that help people,” Kim Shaw of D.C. Fire & EMS said. “Now I have a new bonus saving role, donating plasma to help those in the ICU.”

Plasma is the liquid portion of the blood, and in recovered patients, the substance contains antibodies that are able to attack the virus.

Researchers with the Mayo Clinic and MedStar Health are now studying how such blood plasma could help critical COVID patients, a potential therapy for the most serious of infections.

“When I became a firefighter almost 30 years ago, I wanted to save lives and do good for my community,” Lt. Richard "Sid" Polish said. “And this is just a natural extension of helping others when this pandemic is going to be here for a while.”

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Polish is one of about 20 D.C. firefighters who have donated plasma for the Mayo Clinic/MedStar study.

D.C. Assistant Chief John Donnelly was one of the first coronavirus patients in the District, and has now donated plasma twice since his recovery.

“Three days after I donated, I got a note that said five people received my plasma who were in the ICU,” Donnelly said. “That’s certainly pretty neat, and I hope I can help as many people as possible.”

Doctors who are leading the study at the local level are asking for more participants.

Those allowed to donate plasma must be without symptoms for at least 28 days and present a documented positive coronavirus test.

More information on the plasma donation program can be found on the MedStar Health Research Institute website, or by calling 202-877-6290.

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