Medical student survives COVID-19, donates plasma to help others

Posted at 11:24 PM, Apr 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-14 23:26:24-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Shortly after Anna Downs walked into the Kentucky Blood Center Tuesday, she was taking stock of the past month, which has been consumed by the coronavirus.

“[My dad] said, ‘In three months, you might be the only person to have COVID-19, donate plasma, and treat it,’” Downs said.

Joking aside, Downs does feel like life has come full circle.

The 26-year-old medical student said she began experiencing flu-like symptoms in early March. Soon, she had trouble breathing and was admitted to Baptist Health in Lexington, where she stayed in the ICU for nine days.

“I definitely, at times, wasn’t sure if what I was seeing was real,” Downs recalled. “I was so sick at times, I had a difficult time getting a grasp on what was going on.”

Fortunately, Downs has made a full recovery since being diagnosed with COVID-19. She has been recuperating at home over the last few weeks. Yesterday, she tested negative for the virus.

That brings us back to the Kentucky Blood Center, where Downs was donating plasma.

Hospitals across the country are hoping to help critically-ill coronavirus patients combat the virus with antibody-rich plasma, donated by people who have fully recovered.

“[Donating] gives some meaning to the struggle,” Downs said.

Downs is now the fifth person who has recovered from COVID-19 to donate plasma at the Kentucky Blood Center. One person’s plasma can help two patients.

Mandy Brajuha, the director of marketing at the center, said two patients who received plasma have shown improvements, although she emphasized it’s not clear if the plasma was the determinative factor.

“That was a promising sign, because when you’re critically ill, anything that’s not going in the negative is a positive,” Brajuha said.

As for Downs, she is not done helping. In June, she will begin her residency in Ohio where she could end up treating others with coronavirus symptoms.