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After surviving COVID, Coasties save lives by donating plasma

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As members of the Coast Guard, our predecessors believed in the saying, “You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.”  While that is no longer the expectation, one thing that continues to unite Coasties of all types — active duty, reserve, auxiliary, civilian, retirees and families — is our calling to a life of service.

COVID-19 makes this calling more challenging. Many of the things we would normally do during a crisis, like volunteer, offer childcare and bring meals to our neighbors are more difficult during a pandemic. These acts of service can expose the people we hope to protect as we battle this invisible enemy.

However, we can still find new ways to serve. Enter LT S. Paul Reck.

Reck is D8’s Health, Safety and Work-Life regional practice manager. Helping the fleet stay healthy is literally his job. In March, he developed head and body aches, cough, slight shortness of breath and low-grade fever. After testing positive for COVID-19, Reck said, “it’s a good thing I went to the E.R. when I did because, once I returned home, the symptoms continued to intensify. For the next three to four days, it was a real struggle to get out of bed.” 

Once he recovered, Reck returned to teleworking, but wanted to do more. He saw the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard’s charge to donate blood. A friend and colleague suggested donating blood plasma, instead. Plasma is the clear, yellowish part of blood that carries antibodies to fight diseases. The antibodies Reck developed by successfully fighting COVID-19 could be used to potentially help others. Even though Reck is a seasoned healthcare professional, he is terrified of needles. Despite his fear, he reached out to his local blood bank to offer his plasma. Reck was tested to ensure he no longer carried the virus and then became the second COVID survivor in southeast Louisiana to donate his plasma.

Within a couple of hours, his plasma was taken to East Jefferson Hospital, where three critically ill COVID-19 patients were waiting. Two patients rebounded immediately. The third, though still struggling, is doing better. These results are remarkable, because normally 80% of ventilated patients with COVID-19 do not recover.

While Reck’s successful cases do not prove the universal efficacy of plasma transfusion to treat COVID-19, they provide hope. If plasma donation proves to be a successful COVID-19 therapy, Reck and COVID-19 survivors may be asked to donate more plasma. Each donation can help four to five people.

“I joined the Coast Guard from the Marine Corps to save lives. The way I see it, we are a life-saving branch – whether we are pulling people out of the water or donating plasma to save lives. It’s the same thing,” Reck said. “I would really encourage people, if possible, to donate to help others.”

In fact, true to form, when news of Reck’s story began to spread, at least two other Coasties, who had recovered from COVID-19, also donated their plasma.

If you’ve recovered from COVID, please visit the FDA’s plasma donation website to learn more. Coast Guard supervisors may authorize donations while on duty, and you are authorized to wear your "working" uniform while donating.