Stamford Hill rabbi and coronavirus survivor donates plasma to save others
- Credit: Jewish Community Care
A rabbi who nearly died of coronavirus has donated his antibody-rich plasma at a special centre in north London to help save other patients who are struggling with the disease.
Eli Sufferen of Stamford Hill has already been hooked up to a machine which extracts the liquid from the rest of the blood five times, and is set to donate it one more time at the NHS Blood and Transplant's (NHSBT) centre set up at the La Royale hall in Tottenham High Road.
The plasma is then transfused into patients who are struggling to develop their own immune response, and is part of the world’s largest clinical trial for convalescent plasma.
Eli, a 51-year-old father-of-nine, was rushed to hospital by ambulance in March because his blood oxygen levels were too low, and spent a week in intensive care.
At that time, plasma therapy didn't exist and he was treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which pumped oxygen into his lungs.
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"If I wasn’t in hospital on oxygen, I wouldn’t be here today to tell the story, and thank God I am really back to my normal self," the digital safety counsellor told the Gazette.
"The level of care at UCLH was something phenomenal, and they were working under terrible pressure."
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Through his plasma donations - which will benefit 12 critically-ill patients - he hopes others will avoid going through what he experienced.
He has already heard anecdotally it makes a positive difference.
"The most heartwarming thing is, [a person] from the [Jewish Stamford Hill] community was given plasma and it helped," he said.
"They were very ill, and they saw a really quick improvement within a couple of days without being put on a respirator."
Anyone over 17 who has had Covid-19 can offer to donate blood plasma, and over 230,000 people registered to donate last year - however, not everyone who has had the illness has high enough antibodies to donate.
Men who received hospital care are said to be the best donors.
Black and Asian donors are also important, because these groups tend to be more seriously affected by the illness and therefore produce more antibodies to fight off the virus.
Donating takes about 45 minutes and the whole appointment, including time for snacks, lasts just over an hour.
The blood is put through a centrifugal machine to separate the yellowish-plasma liquid, and then what is left is put back into the body.
"It’s a race against time to get people to give it as soon as possible, while the body still has the antibody levels," said Eli.
"Whereas usually after donating blood you sit for 20 minutes because you can be weak and dizzy, you don't lose all the iron and red cells, so you feel fine.
"At the start of the trials they said not to do it more than every month, but now they say after a couple of days the body has replenished itself and you can do it once a week."
Levi Schapiro, founder of the charity Jewish Community Council in Clapton Common, is encouraging other members of Stamford Hill's Orthodox Jewish community to take part and has already drafted in a further 100 new recruits.
Levi mobilised his team to run a PR campaign in English and Hebrew, and the charity has set up a hotline for people who want to register.
"We thought we would struggle to get people to take part but we still have people phoning up," he said.
"This is about a community coming together and taking a bad situation and turning it into a good story. We are doing this with the intention of showing appreciation and doing something good for the NHS.
"The plasma is going to someone in a hospital who is unwell and needs it urgently to save their life, and the most inspiring part is we have repeat donors who are coming out again and again."
The Tottenham High Road plasma centre is one of 42 in the country and one of six in London, with others in Edgware, Marylebone, Stratford, Tooting and Twickenham.
If clinical trials show patient improvement, plasma could become a life-saving treatment for Covid-19 and be important for people unable to be vaccinated, like those undergoing chemotherapy.
See nhsbt.nhs.uk to donate.