Amid the rising COVID-19 cases in Kerala, the state set up its first plasma bank last week at the Government Medical College Hospital, Manjeri, in Malappuram district, all thanks to a doctor and the Whatsapp group he started.
Dr Shinas Babu, a nodal officer for COVID-19 at the hospital, had created a WhatsApp group in March to interact with COVID-19 patients. Currently, he manages four such groups - a mix of those infected and those who have recovered, according to NDTV.
Fifty-year-old Sainuddin Baqvi was the first COVID-19 patient in the state to recover through convalescent plasma therapy. The madrassa teacher, who lived in Oman, had returned to Kerala on June 6, with bouts of breathlessness.
"I didn't want to trouble anyone so I went straight to the hospital. The doctors took the ECG and later took samples for COVID. Meanwhile, as I began losing breath, I was admitted to the ICU," he told The Indian Express.
However, his condition soon worsened and he stopped responding to treatment. It was then that Dr Babu contacted 23-year-old Vineeth Ravi, who had recovered from coronavirus a few days ago, asking him if he was ready to donate plasma.
"I didn't think twice. The doctor was calling me for help and I knew it had to be something serious," Ravi said. Despite the rain, Vineeth rode his bike to the hospital, nearly 60 Km away.
He added that it was the least he could do in return for the treatment he received at the hospital.
"It was the best possible treatment I could have ever gotten… the doctors and nurses, who sat by my side, risking their lives in order to save my life… a bunch of people whom I have never met in life just going about taking care of us. Their dedication and commitment were overwhelming. Anything that I could ever do for them would fall short," he said.
Two weeks later, Baqvi tested negative for the virus and returned home. Baqvi too praised the healthcare staff for their treatment.
"I got to know that I was COVID-positive only on the day of discharge from the hospital. Apparently, I had suffered pneumonia and even suffered a cardiac arrest. The doctors and nurses, without scaring me at all, took such great care of me that I'll be forever grateful to them," Baqvi said.
When Baqvi was to be discharged from the hospital on June 26, the doctors surprised him by bringing Ravi.
"He is a good person and has a lovely family. This is proof that humanity exists. We may be fighting against a pandemic, but the love we have for each other is the best feeling in the world," said Baqvi.
The successful plasma therapy led to the creation of the state's first plasma bank at the hospital.
"I used to add patients to WhatsApp groups to be able to interact with them directly. Because people are worried, scared and sceptical. So, we used to discuss and clear doubts in the group. There were also those who had recovered and would share their experience," Dr Babu told the media.
These groups helped patients to communicate with the doctors, express their problems such as mental health issues, and develop a sense of unity. When the news of convalescent plasma therapy as an effective treatment protocol for critically-ill patients began doing the rounds, the doctors were quick to pitch it to the recovered patients through the Whatsapp groups.
"We suddenly needed plasma in May for a patient in his 60s. I put this up in the WhatsApp group. Two people volunteered almost immediately. Unfortunately, the patient did not respond well to the treatment and he died. But eventually, we were successful with plasma therapy on four patients," he added.
It was then that the doctor shared his idea of a plasma bank with the medical college's senior doctors, District Medical Officer and District Collector.
"22 recovered patients from Malappuram donated their plasma on July 11. And then based on a second appeal on WhatsApp, another 22 people donated their plasma on July 17. There are another 200 who have given their consent to donate but are waiting to clear the medical requirements like the stipulated waiting period for recovered patients first", Dr Babu said.
To donate plasma, the donor has to be between 18-50 years, weigh more than 55 kg and be free of any comorbidities. In addition, the plasma should be taken 14 days after a person tests negative twice for the deadly virus. According to doctors, the plasma, if stored properly, can be used for one year.
Of the 750 patients who recovered at the hospital, over 200 who match the criteria are willing to donate. So far, out of the five patients who were administered plasma therapy, four have recovered and one died.
"They are all ready to give. Because, at the hospital, we have treated all patients with the utmost love and care. Now, they are returning the same love and care by doubling it," the doctor said.
Recollecting the prompt response of the doctors in arranging plasma for his father, a Sub-Inspector, Jithu P Ajith said, "In June, my family and I returned to Malappuram. Soon my father tested positive for COVID 19. And then I got a call from the doctor saying he was critical and needed plasma therapy. But even as he was speaking to me to get my consent, the donors were already arranged by the doctors."
Kumar, a 56-year-old native of Nilambur, is Sub-Inspector with Delhi Police. He had to undergo plasma therapy twice at the Manjeri hospital after he developed pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome and septicemia. Shahul Hameed, of Perithalmanna, and Abdul Lateef, of Nannambra, both of whom had recovered from the virus, donated plasma to Kumar. After the successful treatment, Kumar recovered and was discharged in early July, reported The New Indian Express.