First published in the Asbury Park Press on August 12, 2020.
LAKEWOOD – Shmaray Keilson couldn’t pass on the opportunity to once again go to the front line in the fight against COVID-19.
The 36-year-old township resident is a survivor of the disease and back in April joined hundreds of plasma donors taking up chairs in blood banks as far away as Delaware.
This time, Kielsen didn’t have to make the 1.5-hour drive to the First State to donate. Township residents continue rolling up their sleeves, figuratively and literally, to help further the fight against the novel coronavirus by donating convalescent plasma in a chair near home.
“I got sick myself and already had the opportunity to help other people when they get sick,” Keilson said. “I felt that I had that unique opportunity and had to take advantage of it.”
A new initiative named “Antibody Everybody” aims at collecting 1,000 units of convalescent plasma from Lakewood residents who survived COVID-19 and have high antibody counts.
The effort began Monday and organizers plan to keep it going at least twice a week for the next four weeks.
“We have partnered with organizations doing amazing work collecting and donating plasma to blood banks all over,” said Morris Franco, marketing director for Streamline Verify, a Lakewood health care software company sponsoring these plasma drives at its headquarters.
“The future of the pandemic is so uncertain, but we’re now seeing that plasma is really helping people fight the disease,” Franco said.
At the onset of the pandemic, Lakewood experienced the lethal touch of the new coronavirus but has since rebounded to become, among other Orthodox Jewish communities, a leader in convalescent plasma donations.
Lakewood residents lived through the horrors of COVID-19 earlier this year, and the case and death counts continue to be the highest in the area. Figures from the Ocean County Health Department show that, as of Tuesday, Lakewood had 2,707 confirmed cases with 197 fatalities. The county totals 10,623 positives and 953 deceased.
Many people who survived the virus in Lakewood got tested back in April and May. Their information became part of a database kept by the nonprofit Bikur Cholim, an organization that has helped sick township residents and their families since it was founded in 1991.
Those in the system have been receiving calls asking them to donate during this drive, Franco said.
Although the use of convalescent plasma an dates back to the 19th century, its use in the fight off the coronavirus pandemic remains experimental as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says there’s no approved treatment for COVID-19.
But the same FDA has launched a public service announcement campaign to double down on the efforts to collect as much plasma and blood as possible.
Convalescent plasma is the liquid part of blood collected from patients who have recovered from COVID-19. These survivors might develop a high count of antibodies, proteins that could help fight the infection.
This plasma gives those sick with the COVID-19 an immediate injection of virus-fighting antibodies, accelerating their own immune systems response to the disease. Plasma from survivors has been used to stem outbreaks of polio, measles, mumps and influenza.
And in Lakewood, many survivors are joining the effort.
“People just literally, for lack of a better word, are rolling up their sleeves. We have all these COVID-19 survivor just looking to help other people,” said Rabbi Meyer Brull, director of development with Bikur Cholim. “While you see mostly members of the Orthodox Community donating, their antibodies are for everybody.”
For more information, visit antibodyeverybody.org.
Gustavo Martínez Contreras covers Lakewood. Contact him at email@example.com or at 732-643-4061.