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Recovered from COVID-19, Henry Ford doctor donates convalescent plasma to help others

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

In April, while battling COVID-19 as the pandemic raced across Michigan, Dr. Scott Kaatz became Henry Ford Health System’s first recipient of convalescent plasma.

The therapy, which uses blood from people who have recovered from an illness to help others recover, was among several experimental treatments he received weeks after tending to other patients stricken with the virus. But during his recuperation in the intensive care unit, the physician immediately began thinking how to return the favor.

“I likely had antibodies, so there was no way I was not going to get this therapy for some other patients,” Kaatz told reporters Tuesday.

A screen grab of a video conference with Dr. Scott Kaatz, Henry Ford Hospital senior physician and COVID-19 survivor, as he donates plasma at Versiti Blood Center of Michigan, in Livonia, September 22, 2020.  Kaatz donated plasma to be used as a potential treatment for COVID-19 patients.

The Henry Ford hospitalist spent part of the day helping achieve that.

In a session streamed live online, the 63-year-old donated plasma while at the Versiti Blood Center of Michigan in Livonia. 

Henry Ford Health System is studying and using convalescent plasma as a potential treatment for COVID-19 patients under U.S. Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization.  

The system’s doctors have treated more than 150 patients across its hospitals with convalescent plasma and referred more than 50 volunteers to Versiti for plasma donation, representatives said.

Convalescent plasma, taken from patients who have recovered from the coronavirus, is rich in infection-fighting antibodies, which may benefit those still battling the disease.

Each donation can result in plasma doses for up to four patients, said Dr. Ileana Lopez-Plaza, division head for transfusion medicine for Henry Ford Health System.

"Only another human being can give the plasma to another human being," she said. "It’s not something we can manufacture."

Kaatz, who also teaches at Wayne State University, viewed his donation and others as vital in potentially leading to medical breakthroughs.

“If you have an opportunity to donate the plasma, it’s pretty easy. It just takes a little bit of time,” he said, seated in a room with tubes linked to his right arm as a lab technician worked nearby. “It’s a great way to be able to give back. And I think that anything anyone can do to fight this disease, it’s important to contribute.”

Donating is relatively safe and only takes about an hour, Lopez-Plaza said. "There’s no reason not to donate if you can donate."

While strapped to a machine that separated his plasma, the yellowish liquid part of blood, Kaatz recounted his journey to donating.

In March, soon after COVID-19 started spreading in the state, Dr. Kaatz was treating patients at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital. At one point, “the number of patients really exploded,” and some floors were designated for them, he said.

After working on one of those levels for more than a week, Kaatz said he started feeling ill, noticing a slight fever and headache. Fearing COVID-19, he stayed home from the hospital system where he’s worked for more than 30 years. But his health declined and he went to the emergency room twice in six days.

By early April, following breathing issues and severe fatigue, Kaatz was hospitalized and intubated.

Dr. Scott Kaatz was treated for coronavirus and received care that included donated plasma.

Not long after the plasma and other treatments, he improved and was taken off a ventilator.

Kaatz also credits the attention of “all of the people who came in that cared for me. … They were risking their lives to save mine.”

Although he survived, Kaatz notes the devastation of the virus, which he said claimed his father’s life. That is why the doctor warns others to take caution.

“It really is disturbing to me that some folks won’t wear a mask and the reason you wear a mask is not only to protect you but to protect the folks that you’re around,” he said. “If you get sick, then my colleagues and friends and maybe even me have to risk our lives to take care of you.”

For information on donating convalescent plasma, go to www.HenryFord.com/donateCOVIDplasma.

Associated Press contributed.