COVID-19 survivor launches plasma donor group to ‘help contribute to the cure’

(NEW YORK) — A woman who overcame the coronavirus has turned her experience into an act of heroism by donating her plasma for antibody testing and spearheading a volunteer movement to help others.

Diana Berrent, a professional photographer from New York, joined ABC News’ Pandemic: What You Need to Know to share details about her experience with the disease and how it acted as a catalyst for her to mobilize volunteer efforts with other COVID-19 survivors.

Berrent believes she contracted the virus during a work meeting in early March. At the time, she said they followed public health guidelines by creating distance between their seats and not making contact with each other or sharing food.

“I was exposed on the evening of March 9. There were only eight people at the meeting and I only met them a couple of times before,” she said. “I presented with symptoms on the morning of [March 13], but I was very lucky and I had a very average case and was able to manage it at home with Gatorade and Tylenol, and now you’re looking at the face of a full survivor.”

Berrent immediately self-isolated from her husband and two children. She said later on, her husband also tested positive for a “much more mild case” of COVID-19.

Berrent said she’d heard that blood plasma transplants from COVID-19 survivors could possibly help sick patients and frontline workers by providing them with antibodies that can fight the coronavirus.

These transplants, known as convalescent plasma treatments, have already begun under the Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Investigational New Drug process. While there’s no guarantee that the treatment will work against the new coronavirus, it’s based on the idea that the body can build immunity to some viruses.

Berrent said she volunteered to donate her plasma to a program run by New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

“You’re tested to see that you no longer have the virus and that you’re positive for the antibodies and then I made an appointment with the New York Blood Center, and it was like giving blood but even easier,” she said. “It was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. I felt like a superhero.”

Berrent said the procedure, which lasted 32 minutes, involved laying down as a machine extracts blood through a needle and separates the plasma — the yellow liquid where antibodies are present — from the rest of the blood.

The whole procedure lasted 32 minutes, Berrent said.

“With each donation, you have the possibility of saving three to four lives,” she claimed. “It’s incredibly empowering to use the antibodies that you naturally built up in your system to help others who are not able to.”

In an effort to help people who’ve become ill from COVID-19 even more, Berrent founded Survivor Corps, a group that she says is the “fastest growing grassroots movement” in the U.S. right now. The organization mobilizes volunteers who have had or still have COVID-19 “to contribute to every academic study, medical study in the country, including the donation of convalescent plasma.”

Berrent said that anyone who has tested positive for the virus can sign up to donate their blood plasma two weeks after they no longer have symptoms.

Berrent said Survivor Corps has a Facebook group and that it has launched a website that’s updated daily to provide other people with “every resource on how you, with your new antibodies, can help contribute to the cure.”

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