CRANFORD, NJ — Lisa Jellett, 46, wanted to help save lives after her family — including her husband and toddler — recovered from coronavirus. After donating plasma this past Friday, she figured she’d also help by sharing with others how the process went.
Lisa’s husband was diagnosed with the virus in late March, shortly after one of his co-workers landed in the hospital from it, she said.
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Lisa’s husband, 58, came down with a cough and fever on a Friday. The next day, a Saturday, he headed to the Union County testing center.
It was the day after that, according to Lisa, that she started having symptoms of her own.
It only took a few days for her toddler to show mild symptoms, she said, while her older child, 7, never did.
Not everyone has the same coronavirus symptoms or severity, experts have said, and some people are asymptomatic with the virus.
Lisa said she had gastrointestinal issues, a low fever, headaches, and skin sensitivity. She didn’t have the breathing issues or a loss of taste or smell that some have suffered.
As her family recovered, Lisa saw posts from her husband’s sister on social media, talking about a need for plasma donations to save patients’ lives.
“Convalescent plasma has specific antibodies to COVID-19, making it a potentially lifesaving treatment for those with serious infections,” according to the Red Cross.
This past Friday, Lisa went to a donation center in Scotch Plains run by the New Jersey/New York Blood Center. She said the process was easy, although it took a little longer than regular blood donation (about a half hour after checking in, providing medical documents, and having her vital signs checked).
She did say she was a little concerned, because not all of the people there were wearing masks and one person’s mask kept slipping below her nose.
A spokeswoman for the New York Blood Center said on Wednesday in response, “All donors and staff are required to wear a face mask once arriving to the donor center. The New York Blood Center is taking extra precautions to help prevent the person-to-person spread of COVID-19 as per CDC recommendations, and all sites are disinfected frequently. New York Blood Center also takes the temperature of all staff and donors prior to entering.”
The process of donating plasma is, according to the center:
A small amount of blood is taken from your arm using a new, sterile, single use needle. The blood “takes a spin” in a centrifuge to separate plasma from other blood components. The plasma is collected in a separate bag and the remainder of the donor’s blood is returned.This cycle is repeated several times to generate the required volume of plasma.At all times during the plasma collection, the donor’s blood remains inside a sterile tubing system and is never in contact with the equipment used for the plasma donation. All tubing, bags and the needle used to collect your plasma are new, sterile and used only once. After use, the disposable kit is discarded.
Donors must be symptom-free for several days after having recovered, and must provide proof of having had a positive test. And like regular blood donation, they must weigh at least 110 pounds and be in good health at the time of the donation.
Lisa’s test results had been entered into a portal that she could access, so she printed that out and brought it to the center.
The Westfield connection
Before she donated, Lisa had heard about a woman in Westfield who was pleading for plasma to help her father. On April 21, Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle noted in her nightly update to the community that a resident was looking for help.
Lisa LaForte, a stylist at Sofi’s Color Lounge in that town, said her dad was critically ill and was candidate for experimental plasma therapy from recovered COVID-19 patients. “If you have recovered, remained symptom-free for two weeks, and can donate type A+ plasma, please email email@example.com,” LaForte wrote in her note.
Lisa Jellett said she had seen that request, but said her blood is a different type. So she went to the center.
Jellett said she was glad to help, especially because her husband’s co-worker eventually passed away.
“I don’t think it’s the most efficient way [to save lives],” she said, “but if it’s the only thing we’ve got at this point, better than nothing.”
When asked about people who still don’t believe the virus is serious, she said, “I understand how hard it is to accept the amorphous data if you don’t have the personal experience, but it’s very contagious. I’m pretty sure I must have gotten it from husband before he displayed symptoms. He had isolated in another bedroom. It’s very contagious and it’s everywhere. It’s definitely real.”
She said she is staying away from her mother, 90, who’s on Long Island, which is hard for her.
She said that after donating plasma, she felt better than before. “It was three days ago and I’ve had no ill effects,” she said on Monday.
A list of where to donate can be found at the New York Blood Center website, or via the Red Cross.
Some private companies also have partnered with hospitals. For instance, Vitalant in Montvale is working with Hackensack University Medical Center to collect convalescent plasma. Information is available at the Vitalant website Vitalant.org/covidfree or by calling 866-CV-PLSMA (866-287-5762).
The town of Millburn, on Thursday, posted a list of agencies/places to donate plasma.
To find out more about coronavirus testing in Union County, click here.
The New Jersey coronavirus death toll climbed to 6,770 by Wednesday, when 329 new deaths were announced.
There are many Cranford resources for seniors, the needy, the hungry, and those who need help for an emergency. Contact town officials or browse resources via the town website.