Breaking News
More () »

Mercy doctors see 'promising signs' in experimental coronavirus treatment

Mercy Hospital and others asking recovered COVID-19 patients for help


Here's some hopeful news for people suffering with coronavirus: Mercy Hospital said it’s trying a new experimental treatment that could help people fight the virus, and the results are already better than doctors had hoped.

“We’re actually able to take out [COVID-19] antibodies in the plasma and give them to another patient to help them fight the infection, since their immune system is not as strong,” said Dr. Emily Schindler, Medical Director of Mercy Blood Donor Services in St. Louis.

The process takes about an hour and is similar to giving blood. A small needle is put into the donor’s arm near the elbow crease. Plasma is extracted while the other components of the blood, like red and white blood cells, are mixed with saline and returned back to the donor’s body. Most donors experience only minor side effects like dehydration and fatigue.

RELATED: COVID-19 survivors wanted: Your plasma could help save someone's life

The plasma treatment isn’t new; people regularly donate plasma to help cancer patients, and plasma has even helped patients with SARS and MERS, two other coronaviruses.

Doctors at Mercy Hospital and other medical organizations around St. Louis and the country hope it will help COVID-19 patients. They’re seeking out people who have recovered from the virus, in hopes those former patients can pass on their antibodies to others in need.

So far, three coronavirus patients at Mercy Hospital have had the treatment. In just a few days, their reliance on ventilators has decreased significantly.

“This is a little more dramatic and a little earlier than we thought we would see,” Dr. Schindler said. “Everyone still has a long road to go. These are sick patients, but we’re seeing promising signs of clinical improvement, and that’s really encouraging.”

Former COVID-19 patient Walter Lamkin was one of the first to donate plasma at Mercy, grateful for a way to help others battle a disease that has affected him so personally.

“I have the unenviable position of having had the virus, but I’m in the enviable position of being able to maybe help other people,” he said.

RELATED: Local COVID-19 patient gets experimental treatment based on century-old idea

He doesn’t know for sure but thinks he got the coronavirus back in late February, before the U.S. had woken up to the pandemic here. He was volunteering at Vail Mountain in Colorado and got a bad cough.

“But I was skiing every day, and it’s wintertime, and it’s cold,” Lamkin said. “So, it’s not that unusual.”

Credit: Walter Lamkin

Lamkin returned home to St. Louis in March, not thinking anything of it. But when his close friend in Colorado got the virus and fell into a coma, Lamkin decided to get tested at a Mercy drive-through clinic. He got his results back a week later — the same day his friend passed away.

“He’d never come out of a coma. Pretty sobering. I knew him a long time,” he said.

Lamkin hopes the treatment’s early success will encourage more donors to come forward.

“A lot of friends have given me accolades for doing this, and I said, ‘No, it’s not about me, though. It’s about these other people. We have to do something.”

“I know when we’re doing social distancing and isolation, it’s really difficult to feel connected with the community, but this sort of brings back that sense of community, that we’re all in this together.”

In addition to Mercy Hospital, American Red Cross, Washington University, and Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center are also trying this plasma treatment for coronavirus patients. 

Latest coronavirus headlines: 

Before You Leave, Check This Out