Southwest Florida Providers (Lee Health & NCH Healthcare) Ramp Up COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Study & Seek Donors

Southwest Florida Providers (Lee Health & NCH Healthcare) Ramp Up COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Study & Seek Donors

Florida has been hit fairly hard by the novel coronavirus with over 30,000 cases and one thousands deaths. Two Suncoast Region health systems—NCH Healthcare System and Lee Health—are actively requesting that those that have recovered from the COVID-19 virus consider visiting collection centers, such as Community Blood Center in Naples, to donate plasma. Part of the national COVID-19 convalescent plasma study led by May Clinic, these providers are hoping that the recovered plasma has the antibodies required to boost the immune systems of patients currently fighting the disease in the hope of accelerating their recovery. This study received the greenlight from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an investigational therapy. SARS-CoV-2 represents more danger for the elderly; cities such as Naples are over 50% 65 and over and, hence, more of the population may be at risk to COVID-19. The two health systems now need support in the form of donors.


TrialSite News first published the study and received hundreds of inquiries. In fact, our Salt Lake City-based clinical research-focused online news and information exchange platform served as a clearing house for nearly one hundreds individuals—either directing patients to study sites or physicians to the study principal investigator. Over a dozen physicians became interested in becoming an investigator because of some of the information published from TrialSite News. The study has accumulated more than 1,040 research sites and 950 physician investigators nationwide!

A one-year study, the sponsors seek to increase the availability of convalescent plasma and better understand the safety issues involved with transfusions while hopefully understanding the effectiveness of convalescent plasma for COVID-19, reported the study’s principal investigator Dr. Dough Brust.

Investigational Therapy

Thus far, three plasma donors have stepped up and donated to NCH’s blood center while two patients have been transfused, reported Shannon Sanchez, director of the blood center. Known as convalescent plasma, this approach dates back to the 1890s for other infections. This is not a proven approach. As Dr. Larry Antonucci, president and CEO of Lee Health reminds: “As in any clinical research study, it is unknown if the treatment will be therapeutic and there are risks involved.” The head of this Florida-based provider continued, “However, based on its use to treat other viral infections, researchers hypothesize that the plasma recovered from patients may contain antibodies that might help fight the disease.” Lee Health’s Dr. Doug Brust reported that there just isn’t enough research for any conclusions about convalescent plasma as a therapy for patients with active COVID-19—hence why the clinical trial.

Contributing to the Cause

Liz Freeman with the local news outlet Naples Daily News recently showcased the importance of “giving back” and contributing to a bigger cause as American society (and the world) takes on the coronavirus. And the providers there in this beautiful part of Florida need help—they need more donors.

Ms. Freeman covers some great examples of the health heroes that step up and give back so that another infected person may have a better chance of making it through. Whether it’s 30-year-old Russel Martin, who recovered from COVID-19 and realized that perhaps others may not have the same luck. Mr. Martin noted, “It was a good feeling” and continued, “It can help other people. It could potentially save lives.”

55-year-old Jennifer Zavodny, a Lee Health employee, recently donated her plasma directly at Lee Memorial Hospital. After recovering from a milder case of COVID-19, she was the first Lee County resident to donate plasma. Commenting on why she donated her plasma, she says, “If it can help just one patient get out of the hospital and be back home with their family, that is everything.”

Two Methods to Donate

Donors can donate if they 1) have a positive test for COVID-19 and be cleared as fully recovered and thereafter take a second test that is negative—the donor must wait 14 days after the second negative test; and 2) forgo the second COVID-19 test but the donor must wait 28 days prior to entering the donation process.

The Providers (Sites)

Lee Health was founded in 1916 and employs over 12,500 and includes over 600 employed primary and specialty care physicians and advanced practitioners in more than 80 practice locations throughout Southwest Florida. NCH Healthcare got its start in the Naples area in 1956 with the first hospital. Now a not-for-profit multi-facility healthcare system based out of Naples, the anchor of the system is the two hospitals (downtown Naples Hospital Campus and the North Naples Hospital Campus) with a total of 681 beds. The system employs 566 community physicians.

Lead Research/Investigator

Dough Brust,, Lee Health

Call to Action: For those seeking to give back and donate at Lee Health, call 239-343-2332 or email [email protected], and for the NCH plasma donor program call 239-624-6504 or visit here. Collecting plasma includes a process involving apheresis blood donation through a machine that separates blood elements to collect the plasma and the process takes about 45 minutes for the donor.