URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Throughout the pandemic, people walking through the door of Community Blood Services were saving lives.
“At no point did we stop taking donations. As a matter of fact, we knew that we had to ramp up immediately because of all of the cancellations that we were going to face,” says Teri McCarthy, a donor relations consultant.
The center faced a lot of cancellations. McCarthy says Community Blood Services lost the equivalent of 40,000 blood donations throughout 2020. Hospitals stopped elective surgeries for a few months, and regular donors stepped up to help — which helped fill the need. But then healthcare providers announced they needed something else: COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma, or CCP.
“The hospitals became more confident in the power of the convalescent plasma that the need was increasing, so we stepped up our ask for that,” says McCarthy.
Central Illinois answered the call — including two people who are no strangers to donating — Jon and Cathy Rector.
“I lost a brother to leukemia when I was 10 years old … I don’t remember a lot about then, but I know a lot of people donated blood so my focus is donate blood to help those people that really need it,” says Jon.
When the couple found out COVID-19 patients needed plasma — they didn’t hesitate. They knew what those patients were going through.
“If you’ve survived something horrible in your life, no matter what it is, and you have that opportunity to give back, why not? That’s what we’re here for,” says Cathy.
“COVID was brutal for Cathy and me … It put me down for two weeks, it put Cathy down for three weeks … It was a little scary. Hers turned into pneumonia, I had to drop her off at the ER down the street here one night and emotionally and physically,” says Jon. “Since it was so bad for a couple of weeks, it was just, it felt so good to do something nice to help others. And I remember when we posted on Facebook, one of my friends reached out and thanked us. She goes, ‘my daughter just had the plasma, so you know thanks for doing your part.'”
More than 2,500 people in Central Illinois did their part. Community Blood Services was able to stop collecting CCP at the end of March. They had enough stocked up to meet the need and the plasma can stay frozen for up to a year after collection.
“It absolutely saved lives and it kept people from having extreme symptoms, hospitalizations and death — and that’s a big deal,” says McCarthy.
The center is prepared in case they have to collect CCP again, but McCarthy is cautiously optimistic about the future.
“There is light in the tunnel, but we’re still in the tunnel,” she says.