It’s in Their Blood – DC FEMS Members Donate to MedStar Health Convalescent Plasma Study

July 24, 2020

Lt. Richard “Sid” Polish donates blood plasma at the American Red Cross

WASHINGTON— Even after battling COVID-19, D.C. firefighters and paramedics say their duty to help people is strong. Just ask Lt. Richard “Sid” Polish of D.C. FEMS, who caught the virus back in April and recovered a few weeks later.

“When I became a firefighter almost 30 years ago, I wanted to help save lives and do good for my community. This is just a natural extension of the job and my willingness to help other people,” Polish says.

Polish and several of his colleagues are donating their blood plasma and directing it to the MedStar Health Research Institute, where researchers are investigating whether the plasma of recovered COVID-19 patients can be used to treat critically ill patients still fighting the virus.

“We believe that the plasma has immune proteins called antibodies that help either neutralize the virus or help the immune system recognize the virus as a foreign invader,” says hematologist Aarthi Shenoy, MD, who is leading the research project at MedStar Health. MedStar is partnering with the study’s sponsor, the Mayo Clinic, on the nationwide convalescent plasma program.

Asst. Chief John Donnelly, DC Fire & EMS Dept.

DC FEMS first heard about the study from a D.C. resident who called the firehouse asking for help. The caller’s relative was hospitalized with COVID-19, and she asked that firefighters consider donating their blood plasma to aid the research of treatments. According to DC FEMS Assistant Chief John Donnelly, more than 100 of the department’s firefighters and EMT’s have been infected with COVID-19, including Donnelly himself.

“I gave plasma three days later,” says Donnelly, who requested his plasma go to patients at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. He says it was a way to give back since DC FEMS members are often treated for burns and injuries at the hospital’s Burn Center.

“MedStar Health sent me a notice that said five people received your plasma today that were in our ICU, and we hope it helps them. That’s pretty neat,” Donnelly says. “MedStar Health and DC FEMS have had a long relationship. They take care of our people when they’re really hurt. It’s going to take our whole community working together to survive COVID-19 and recover and get life back to some sort of normal.”

Donnelly has already completed his second blood plasma donation, and Polish is preparing for a second round himself.

Firefighter Paramedic Kim Shaw, DC Fire & EMS Dept.

“I look forward to hopefully being able to do this again,” Polish says.

DC FEMS says the trend has caught on now that at least 20 other COVID-19 recovered first responders have either donated or expressed interest in donating, including firefighter paramedic Kim Shaw.

“This is a very rewarding experience to be able to give to those who were as sick as I was. At this point, I’m well and I didn’t have to be ventilated. There are a lot of people out there who are very sick who I’m able to give back to,” Shaw says.

MedStar Health continues to collect plasma from individuals that have had and recovered from COVID-19. If you are interested in donating your blood plasma to MedStar Health’s convalescent plasma study, please e-mail [email protected].

Click below to watch and learn more about DC Firefighters and EMS donating blood plasma to MedStar Health.

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